Spotlight PA report highlights coming Alzheimer's crisis

Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s most elderly states, is unprepared for another kind of public health emergency — this one with no vaccine, few preventative measures, and its own set of dire economic implications.

There are 280,000 Pennsylvanians over the age of 64 currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, and another 100,000 with related disorders — Parkinson’s disease dementia, Lewy body dementia, and vascular dementia, to name a few, according to Spotlight PA

By The Numbers

  • $3.7 billion spent annually through Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program for Alzheimer’s care costs
  • 622 million hours of unpaid care — valued at roughly $10 billion — provided by Pennsylvanians to a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
  • 500,000 family caregivers in Pennsylvania
  • $4,891 a month on average for memory care at a Pennsylvania assisted living facility
  • 6th leading cause of death in Pennsylvania: Alzheimer’s disease

The Alzheimer’s figure alone is expected to reach 320,000 by 2025 and swell exponentially from there as the baby boomer generation, one of the largest in U.S. history, continues to age.

The longer cases progress, the more likely they are to require full-time supervision that is incredibly costly and already in high demand.

Right now, few state-licensed eldercare facilities have dementia-specific accommodations, with a maximum capacity of 17,157 patients between them.

With hundreds of thousands of cases and the potential for half to be moderate or severe, according to new research, the math favors a growing wave of “under-supervised” cases and cases managed by loved ones, in sometimes excruciating fashion.

“If you want to talk about the future and people with Alzheimer’s, I think you’re going to see the need for more and more of these kinds of places where people can get the specialized care they need,” said Diane Menio, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Center for Advocacy for the Rights & Interests of the Elderly.

Experts and advocates give the state a near-failing grade in its efforts to prepare for the coming crisis in dementia care, a PublicSource/Spotlight PA investigation found. An official state action plan has sputtered for years, high costs could push families and facilities to the brink, and those serving on an unfunded state task force concede time is running out — and fast.

“This is a public health crisis,” said Jen Ebersole, the director of state government affairs for the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Pennsylvania, “and Pennsylvania is not addressing it like a public health crisis.”

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