Seniors living with Alzheimer’s gained the attention this year of state lawmakers, who provided more than $5 million of new funding for early detection and home care for those who have the illness. Experts have also acknowledged a growing problem of elder abuse.
One of the most frequent questions Georgia Council on Aging executive director Kathy Floyd is often asked when she meets with constituents across the state is, “How do I know if my parent has Alzheimer’s?”
Obtaining a proper diagnosis is not easy. An estimated 140,000 Georgians—one in nine adults 65 and older—has the disease, yet it’s still under diagnosed and under reported, according to findings by the Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias State Plan Advisory Council.
One reason is that many primary care physicians are unclear about testing and giving a diagnosis, advocates say.
This year, lawmakers pledged more than $4 million to set up memory clinics across the state, giving under-served communities resources for diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s.
The money will create the Georgia Alzheimer’s Project, which will set up clinics in five existing health care facilities with the Emory University Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, providing technical assistance, protocol development, training and on-call service.
The Emory research center is recognized by the National Institutes of Health, and patients have access to clinical trials and new medications. However, there’s also a long waiting list to get an appointment, and “people can’t wait eight or nine months to get a diagnosis,” Floyd said.
The goal is to have an early diagnosis because research shows this is essential with Alzheimer’s, says Ginny Helms, vice president of Georgia's chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
“The way of the future is going to be to treat the person early,” Helms said. “That’s when the medications are most effective. You can manage dementia better if you catch it at early stages.”
New funds were also allocated for community care services, such as respite and adult daycare, to help those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
Other new funding and programs were added to address elder abuse. One of the most significant was a bill that outlined expectations and duties required of those granted a power of attorney to manage someone’s affairs. It also spells out what constitutes a crime.
The ubiquitous legal document had become “a license to steal,” especially from those suffering with dementia, Helms said.
“One of the first things that changes in a person with Alzheimer’s is their judgment, and they need someone they trust to take care of their money,” she said. “We want to make sure that the money is for their care.”
The Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association worked with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and AARP in pushing for these changes, which take place July 1.
Funding was also added to increase salaries of nursing home monitors, plus the hire a state prosecutor to tackle elder abuse cases statewide.
For the caregivers, Georgia seniors scored with the passage of the Family Care Act, legislation that aging advocates have been working on for six years. The bill allows employees who have sick leave to use up to five days to care for someone other than themselves.
Overall, more than $13 million in new funds for increased services and protections were given to older Georgians.
Georgia Council on Aging volunteers are hosting meetings throughout the state this week to share updates on the past legislative session and begin preparing for the next session. More information about Engage with Co-Age meetings can be found at gcoa.org/engage.
NEW FUNDS AND PROGRAMS FOR SENIOR SERVICES
$13 million in new funding
$4.12 million to create the Georgia Alzheimer’s Project
$1 million for Medicaid home care program for Alzheimer’s patients
$4.2 million for in-home care for seniors
$750,000 senior meal programs
$250,000 for rate increase to meal providers
$766,000 to hire additional Adult Protective Service workers
$2 million for salary increases of nursing home monitors
$100,000 to hire a state prosecutor for elder abuse cases
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ENGAGE WITH CO-AGE
• Tuesday, April 18, 8.30 a.m., Northwest GA Regional Commission, 3 Jackson Hill Drive, Rome, 30162.
• Wednesday, April 19, 2 p.m., Talmadge Terrace Lanier Gardens, 801 Riverhill Dr.
• Thursday, April 20, 10 a.m., ACCA Center for Active Living, 135 Hoyt St., Athens, 30601.
• Thursday, April 20, 2 p.m., Hairston Lake Apartment Community, 1023 N. Hairston Drive, Stone Mountain, 30083.
• Friday, April 21, 2 p.m. at Wesley Woods Towers, 1825 Clifton Road, NW, Atlanta, 30329.