TOPEKA—Less than a year after it was established, the State of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Working Group has presented the Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Plan to the Legislature.

Kansas, prior to this plan, was the only state in the nation to not have a formal plan to address what Ann Elifrits, commissioner of the working group, called a “looming health crisis.”

“We are very behind other states,” said Elifrits, noting that Washington, D.C., and United States territory Puerto Rico already have implemented plans.

The plan is a call to action for state and local government, healthcare providers, educators, first responders, civic and faith communities and many other Kansas stakeholders.

Currently, there are 53,000 Kansans age 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s, according to the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. This number is expected to increase to 62,000 by the year 2025. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death of Kansans age 60 and older.

Not only is it a health crisis, but a financial crisis as well. Kansas spent $424 million Medicaid dollars on individuals with Alzheimer’s in 2018. These costs are expected to increase almost 26 percent from 2018 to 2025.

The financial burden affects the state and the estimated 151,000 caregivers and family members who provide care and support for someone with Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the average cost of long-term care for a semi-private room in a nursing home is nearly $86,000 per year.

Former Gov. Jeff Colyer, by Executive Order 18-14, established the State of Kansas Alzheimer’s Working Group in June 2018. The executive order states the duties of the working group are to assess the current and future impact of the disease on Kansas residents and to develop a strategy to mobilize a state response to this public health crisis. The working group is run by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.

The working group endorses creating a state Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Council. The council would monitor and report progress, as well as recognize the barriers to the implementation of the state plan.

Along with creating an advisory council, the plan offers multiple recommendations that can be made within the existing systems of care and services in Kansas. The key recommendations include requiring specific Alzheimer’s disease training for long-term care providers, the use of dementia screening tools to primary care physicians, a comprehensive statewide training program for all first responders and law enforcement agencies and the expansion of innovative adult day programs for individuals with Alzheimer’s in all Kansas counties.

The recommendations offered in the plan are only the first steps in addressing the public health crisis. A systematic change is necessary, which makes the need for action urgent.

“I really think there are things we can do in Kansas to make people more aware, and we’re missing those opportunities,” said Elifrits. “Our understanding of it is evolving, and we are hopeful there are effective treatments.”

Paige Henderson is a University of Kansas senior from Lenexa majoring in journalism.

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