Out of all 50 states in the union, Ohio is the only one without a comprehensive state plan for treating and combating Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Ohio Senate Bill 24, introduced last week by Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, and Sen. Steve Wilson, R-Maineville, seeks to join the other 49 states by establishing an Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Task Force.

Sen. Yuko said he became aware of the need for a formal Alzheimer’s state plan when he first ran for state representative in 2003 and had the issue personalized for him when his father experienced symptoms of dementia shortly before he passed away.

“It’s not just the people affected; it’s their families and the community. It’s such a broader picture than we anticipated,” Sen. Yuko said of his research into the issue. “We decided last year something had to be done.”

Alzheimer’s Association Ohio Public Policy Lead Sarah Sobel said an estimated 5.7 million Americans, including 220,000 Ohioans, live with Alzheimer’s or other related dementias, with that number expected to triple by 2050. The Medicaid cost for care and treatment of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are estimated at $44 billion annually, she said, with that cost expected to rise more than 300 percent over the next 30 years.

“We’re dealing with a public health crisis here. We know that the burden is large,” she said. “This is why we need a comprehensive state Alzheimer’s plan.”

According to the bill, the task force would bring together a number of stakeholders, including individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, caregivers, healthcare professionals, state health officials, legislators and representatives from the Alzheimer’s Association.

The task force would discuss topics including Alzheimer’s and dementias population trends and service needs, existing resources and services and policies and strategies to improve care for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementias and their caregivers, the bill states. The final product would be a report of findings and recommendations delivered to the governor and legislature no later than 18 months after the effective date of the bill if it passes both chambers and is signed by the governor.

Sen. Yuko said while he is embarrassed that Ohio is the last state to formulate an Alzheimer’s and dementias plan, he sees an opportunity to learn and gather best practices from other states’ plans. Ms. Sobel said Wisconsin and Minnesota in particular have revised their Alzheimer’s plans several times and provide many good recommendations.

Some action items that could result from the task force include forming public awareness campaigns that de-stigmatize the disease, training first responders to deal with wandering that is prevalent for those with Alzheimer’s and dementias and promoting risk reduction and early diagnoses.

“Fifty-three percent of individuals with memory loss have not talked to a doctor about their symptoms, so one humongous initiative is going to be working with health systems to promote early detection, making sure that physicians are properly trained in diagnostic assessment processes and then referring to the Association as often as possible,” she said. “We have trained staff to provide the support for not only the individual with the diagnosis but with the family and the care partners as well.”

After being introduced last week, S.B. 24 has been referred to the Senate Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee for further consideration.

“It’s good to worry about jobs, schools, healthcare, but sometimes we have to get a little bit more specific and address these people,” Sen. Yuko said. “We should do everything we can to ensure quality of life is the best it can be.”

Ms. Sobel said there’s no time to waste in formulating the state’s comprehensive plan.

“We can’t wait for somebody else to do this for us, and we need to address the unique needs for Ohioans,” she said. “So we look forward to working with the senators on getting the bill passed and to being a partner at the table at this task force that will look at a plan for three to five years out.”

Tim Tedeschi covers the Solon and West Geauga Board of Education, as well as statewide education issues, sports and features. He is a lifelong diehard Cleveland Indians fan and a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University.

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