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Health experts say Arizona not prepared for surge of Alzheimer's patients

Alzheimer's
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Arizona is in the midst of a surge in Alzheimer’s patients that is rising at the fastest rate in the nation, a crisis advocates fear the state is not prepared to cope with.

The Alzheimer’s Association has released a new report which estimates cases in Arizona will increase from 150,000 in 2020 to 200,000 by 2025, a 33% increase that would be the fastest in the nation over that five-year period.

According to Cronkite News Digest, advocates say there are not enough resources to handle the cases the state has now, much less the extra 50,000 that could be coming.

Kinsey McManus, program director for the Desert Southwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association says Arizona needs to prepare now for a “public health crisis” as there is already a statewide shortage of caregivers, nurses and doctors.

Arizona only had 92 geriatricians – doctors who deal with issues of aging – in 2021, which experts said is not enough to handle the current caseload. And McManus said many of these specialists live in urban areas, which creates issues for rural communities.

“Where are those doctors? They’re mostly in our major urban areas,” McManus said. “So if you’re in a rural community, your access to a current provider is very limited.”

The Alzheimer’s Association report calls for a 27% increase in personal care or home health aides to keep pace with the growing need in Arizona. And it said that even if the number of geriatricians could be increased more than tenfold by 2050, to 1,089 doctors, that would only be enough to care for 30% of the people over age 65.

Along with increased demand comes increased costs. The report said Medicaid payments for those 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in Arizona is likely to rise from $414 million in 2020 to $545 million in 2025, part of a national increase over the same period from $51.2 billion to $61.6 billion.

That does not take into account the burden on family members caring for an Alzheimer’s patient. The report estimated that 257,000 Arizonans devoted 501 million hours to caring for a family member in 2021, unpaid care worth more than $9.5 billion. In Arizona, 15.4% of caregivers reported suffering from depression.