Here's a draft of our Tuesday editorial:
Meet the support system for Idaho’s 26,000 Alzheimer’s patients.
They are, by and large, your neighbors.
Some 80 percent are women. The caregivers are themselves an aging cohort, with an average age of 59.
For family caregivers, this labor of love is physically and mentally exhausting labor. Fifty-five percent of caregivers devoted at least 40 hours a week to home care.
This portrait comes from a study completed in August by the Idaho Alzheimer’s Planning Group. It’s a window to what the future could hold — for tens of thousands of Idaho patients and their loved ones.
Because, even if Idaho does nothing to change the way it addresses Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, one thing will inevitably change.
The number of Idahoans suffering from dementia is expected to increase rapidly — by more than 60 percent in a mere 13 years. As the state’s population ages, the cost of care for dementia patients will only skyrocket.
Armed with its research, the Alzheimer’s planning group wants to convince the state to take the next step to address this looming challenge. The group wants Idaho to follow the example of 35 other states, and adopt a state Alzheimer’s plan.
This is an essential.
Not because 35 states have a plan.
But because it’s the right thing for Idaho Alzheimer’s patients — and especially the relatives who so often wind up caring for them. Too often, caregivers are on their own, balancing not only the rigors and demands of care but the complicated morass of Medicare and Medicaid rules.
Even in a state where people treasure their independence, caregivers shouldn’t have to take on this heartwrenching responsibility on their own.
To their credit, the state’s elected officials have acknowledged the need for a plan. The 2012 Legislature and Gov. Butch Otter endorsed a resolution supporting the planning group’s efforts — from gathering data about the needs of patients, families and caregivers to “recommending programs and strategies for addressing those needs.”
It’s a first step. It doesn’t commit any public funding, however — and that will be the tough step.
One way or another, we all will pay, and dearly.
When Alzheimer’s patients get care at home, by loved ones in Idaho and across the nation, the demands of the task and the economic costs both are hidden. (The out-of-pocket cost of care is already $33.8 billion a year nationally.) A state plan is the best way for state government to figure out how and where to best provide training, outreach and advocacy — to help those who help.