The Big Sky State Addresses Alzheimer’s
Senate Aging Committee
Sens. Collins and Nelson listen to testimony at a committee hearing.
The Senate Special Committee on Aging ventured outside of Washington, DC to hold a field hearing ”Alzheimer’s Disease: A Big Sky Approach to a National Challenge” addressing dementia and other issues in Montana.
In the Billings hearing, Dr. George Carlson of the McLaughlin Research Institute (MRI) in Great Falls, Montana, discussed Alzheimer’s disease, pushing for more funding to help find a cure. Funding data from the National Institutes of Health shows that funding for Alzheimer’s in 2013 was about $412 million compared to $3 billion for AIDS research, $2 billion for cardiovascular disease and $5 billion for cancer research, he noted.
The state of Montana has stepped up as federal support shrinks with a nearly $1 million grant in 2014 as seed money for the Montana Center for Aging Research & Memory Care. McLaughlin has partnered with Benefis Health System in Great Falls to develop this center, which Carlson called a “unique partnership between an excellent community hospital and an internationally recognized research institution.”
He said unlike the United States, countries such as China and India are increasing their investments in science. MRI receives funding from India’s National Center for Biological Sciences to help establish a mouse genetics facility at a stem cell institute in Bangalore. “I had never imagined that our research in Montana would be supported by funds from a developing country,” he said.
Patricia Coon with the Montana Alzheimer’s/Dementia Work Group, which includes member from the assisted living industry, said that over the next year to 18 months the group plans to develop a Montana Alzheimer’s Disease State Plan designed to serve as a roadmap to inform the state government on critical dementia issues across the state along with recommendations to improve related care and services.
She said Montana is challenged by its large land mass and small population that makes it difficult to recruit and retain primary care providers along with a shortage of geriatric specialists.
Bruce Finke, an elder health consultant with the Indian Health Service, discussed the cultural and other challenges on tribal sites related to health care, including dementia. He said most care for dementia patients can and should take place in primary care and HIS is working on its expanding its sites for access to primary care.
Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said Montana will face a significant rise in the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease. In 2014, there are 18,000 older adults living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia in the state. By 2015, this number is estimated to increase by 50 percent to 27,000.
It is estimated that Medicare spending per person is three times more ($21,095 vs. $8,005 in 2013) for beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias than for beneficiaries without these diseases, according to Richtman, who is a former staff director for the Senate committee.