A House task force examining Alzheimer's disease and dementia opened its work Tuesday by hearing about the challenges faced by patients and caregivers.
The Speaker's Task Force on Alzheimer's and Dementia also heard testimony from the Department of Aging regarding work it is doing related to the ailments.
The task force, chaired by Rep. Dorothy Pelanda (R-Marysville), is expected to meet every other Tuesday for the next few months and to report on its findings by the end of the year. The panel, which includes lawmakers and others who work in aging fields, will likely produce at least three different pieces of legislation and a statewide Alzheimer's and dementia care plan.
Representatives from two different local Alzheimer's associations gave testimony about the disease and the struggles faced by patients.
Tricia Bingham, director of programs and services for the Alzheimer's Association, Central Ohio chapter, said there are currently more than 210,000 Ohioans with Alzheimer's disease, a number expected to rise to 250,000 by 2025, and more are undiagnosed or suffer from other forms of dementia.
She said one hurdle is that dementia-like symptoms can be caused by a number of different factors in addition to Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's, she said, "is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only one of the top ten that has no treatment, cure or known prevention. It is not a normal part of aging."
She said it's important to educate medical providers about the different types of dementia so they can provide better care when it's diagnosed early.
"By educating health care providers and the community about common forms of dementia, we can help the physician and the individual most quickly identify what type of dementia has developed," she said. "Thus an early and documented diagnosis leads to better outcomes for individuals with Alzheimer's and their caregivers."
Rep. Pelanda asked if the growth expected in the disease is because of increased diagnosis or a higher prevalence. Ms. Bingham said as the Baby Boomers age, the rate will increase dramatically.
Cheryl Conley, program director for the Alzheimer's Association Northwest Ohio Chapter, detailed some of the services and supports the association provides, including helplines, care consultations, caregiver support groups and research.
Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus), a task force member, suggested more work can be done to educate young people on the diseases to prepare them as they grow older and become caregivers or are diagnosed themselves.
Ms. Conley said Central Ohio's association has a vibrant young professionals' organization that raises interest among young people.
Joel Whetstone, chief of staff for Department of Aging, said the department was awarded a federal grant on Aug. 1 to establish dementia-capable communities. The grant, worth $312,000, is part of work to help inform community entities about dementia and provide them with resources.
"The goal is to understand how to integrate the needs of individuals and families living with dementia into plans as our communities grow," he said.
He also said the department is working to help caregivers, as dementia caregivers are often older than other types and perform a wider variety of tasks. The efforts include funding for respite services, for which the state budget (HB 49) implemented new data collection requirements for Alzheimer's Associations and area agencies on aging that receive the funds.
"We will conduct an ongoing analysis of the data and stay in dialogue with our partners - the fund recipients - to continue to evolve our practices and policies to match the needs of our Ohioans," he said.
Charles Brockman, a Columbus-area patient with Lewy Body dementia, described the struggles he and his wife face with his disease.
He said when he was diagnosed in 2012, he was not given information or resources. He was then referred to another neurologist who offered more support.
He also said he's received support from the Alzheimer's Association.
"This is a great group of individuals - both caregivers attending and those directly affected like myself," he said. "We come together for education, support and discussion."
He said it's important to raise awareness so patients can find support and help when they need it.
"I want to do anything I can to help slow this disease down and find a cure for others and myself," he said. "It is only through research and increased funding that we have hope of ever finding a cure."
The task force includes: