Preparing for Alzheimer’s

By Bill Diamond

State Senator, D-Windham

On Jan. 1, 2011, the nation’s 78 million baby boomers began turning 65, the age at which they become eligible for Medicare.

One of the most serious age-related diseases older people face is Alzheimer’s disease. This is a progressive, degenerative neurological disorder that results in loss of memory and other cognitive abilities, and affects the ability of an individual to maintain activities of daily living, such as eating, drinking, self-care, and behavior. This cruel disease robs a person not only of their memory, but of their personality and often their dignity, and sadly, there is currently no known cure.

There are currently an estimated five million Americans with Alzheimer’s. According to current projections, this could soar to 7.7 million people with the disease by 2030, and as many as 16 million by 2050. This is more than the current total population of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston combined.

The cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s is staggering, and, as the number of sufferer’s increases, so will the cost to the nation. Medicare currently spends nearly three times as much for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias than they do for the average Medicare beneficiary. The costs to Medicare alone are projected to double from the $91 billion spent in 2005 to more than $189 billion by 2015. Costs to the state of Maine through the MaineCare program are expected to increase similarly. Something has clearly got to change.

Ideally, this something would be a cure, and people are working very hard on this. While there are some promising leads, sadly there is nothing definite on the horizon. Until some sort of effective treatment or preventive measures are found, we have to prepare for the increased number of Alzheimer’s patients as best we can. To help do this, the legislature passed LD 859 this year. The bill, entitled “Resolve, To Convene a Task Force To Study Cost-effective Ways of Dealing with an Increased Population of Those Affected by Alzheimer’s Disease.”

This bill creates a working group, consisting of administrators and staff of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, medical professionals and members of Alzheimer’s disease organizations to look at the various treatment options and care programs available. They will study best practices from across the country and around the world and develop a plan for dealing with this disease in Maine as cost-effectively as possible, so that we can provide the care these people need without bankrupting the state.

Alzheimer’s not only affects the person with the disease, but their entire family as well. If you have a relative with Alzheimer’s, there is help available. The wonderful people at the Maine Alzheimer’s Association can get you the information you need to help you get by. Just call their office at 772-0115.

If you have any thoughts on this or have any issues with the state, please feel free to contact me at 287-1515 or visit my website at to send me an e-mail.

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.