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How Michigan can prepare for the coming Alzheimer’s crisis

Alzheimer's patient

Michigan’s graying population is rapidly leading to a crisis in care for the state’s Alzheimer’s population, a trend expected to accelerate over the next years and decades. 

With associated costs of care estimated to rise above $15 billion annually, Michigan leaders and advocates face a host of challenges planning for the disease, and its impact on patients, caregivers and scarce medical resources.   

Related: Alzheimer's in Michigan: The coming storm

Here are some possible policy options for the state to consider: 

Add more geriatric specialists

Michigan is expected to need 892 certified physician geriatric specialists by 2030. As of 2014, there were just 222 such specialists in the state.

Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services offers loan forgiveness for geriatricians, as well as family practice physicians, psychiatrists and other health care practitioners who locate in underserved areas.

But open geriatric fellow positions go unfilled across the nation, in part because salaries for geriatricians significantly lag those for other specialties like orthopedics or cardiology.

Require training for doctors 

Massachusetts enacted a law in 2018 that requires all doctors, physician's assistants and nurses who serve adults to complete a one-time training on the diagnosis, treatment and care of people with Alzheimer's. Protective service caseworkers who work with seniors are also to be trained on how to recognize Alzheimer's. Virginia passed a law requiring training for health-care providers on early detection and diagnosis. Oregon passed a similar measure for staff at residential care facilities. 

Training for caregivers, first responders

According to a May report by the Michigan Dementia Coalition, a collection of organizations including healthcare systems, universities, state agencies, service providers and others, 12 of the state’s 16 Area Agencies on Aging provide six-week training to family caregivers for people with dementia living at home. That could be expanded to include caregivers in the entire state.

Connecticut passed a 2014 law that requires dementia training for emergency first responders, but also for probate judges, conservators and protective service personnel. In other words, for a range of professionals who can have a profound impact on the lives and care of vulnerable adults.  

Expand paid sick leave

Paid sick leave took effect in Michigan in March, a measure that applies to companies with more than 50 employees and limits leave to 40 hours in one year.

Seven states – California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Washington State, Connecticut and Massachusetts – have enacted expanded family sick leave measures that provide paid leave ranging from four to 12 weeks.

But extended leave is an option Michigan’s Republican-majority Legislature rejected in last December’s lame-duck session, when it reduced leave benefits passed earlier in the session. 

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