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Newly Formed Commission Will Address Rising Number of Alzheimer’s Cases

With early diagnoses and aging population, NJ residents with disease expected to total 170,000 by 2025.

sen jeff van drew
Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland)

Projections of a steady increase in the number of New Jersey residents with Alzheimer’s disease may make formation of a new state commission more attention-worthy than usual.

The newly appointed members of the Alzheimer’s Disease Study Commission could play an important role in the future as officials expect the number of New Jersey residents with Alzheimer’s to increase from 150,000 in 2010 to 170,000 in 2025, with about 80 percent of the new patients over the age of 85.

In addition, diagnoses of the disease are occurring at a younger age, increasing the need for services to aid residents who are not yet disabled.

“I think what’s critical is that we position the state to be able to respond to the wave that we know is coming as the baby boomers are aging,” said Lawrence B. Brooks, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Greater New Jersey Chapter. Brooks is one of nine members recently appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to the commission, which was created by legislation in 2011.

Brooks said that if caregivers are included, the disease directly affects more than 500,000 residents.

“We anticipate that those numbers are going to increase exponentially,” he said.

The commission’s mandate is to study the effects of the disease on the state and projections about its future impact. The commission also has the authority to gather information on the state’s role in assisting those with early stage and early onset Alzheimer’s’ and the capacity of law-enforcement officials to properly respond to residents with Alzheimer’s. It will gather data on the care of people with Alzheimer’s and make recommendations to healthcare providers and policymakers on how to improve those services. Brooks expressed optimism that state officials will be receptive to recommendations from the commission.

The disease has “become more and more at the forefront of public consciousness versus where it was several years ago,” Brooks said. “I think people will recognize why this is a critical issue.”

Brooks said the cultural diversity of New Jersey presents a challenge to service providers, since each culture has a different approach to the healthcare needs of family members.

The (link: http://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/552013/approved/20130621d.html|commission appointees| represent a cross-section of stakeholders, including representatives of family members, the clergy, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Brooks said the commission might make recommendations related to addressing the need for emergency responders to know how to deal with people with Alzheimer’s.

“Sometimes when they encounter a patient with Alzheimer’s, they don’t know how to interact,” he said.

He said he also expects the commission to gather data on the trajectory of the disease for those who are diagnosed with it early.

“People are coming to us in the very early stages of the disease,” Brooks said, adding that the commission will to make sure services are available to residents throughout the span of years after they are diagnosed.

Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland), a sponsor of the law creating the commission, said that while it has taken two years for Christie to appoint the commission members, “I know the governor is committed to it.”

Van Drew added that the wide-ranging and pervasive effects of the disease add to the urgency of the commission’s work.

“This is a disease that affects everyone,” Van Drew said. “We need to make sure that we totally understand it and that we’re dealing with it in the best way possible.”

Van Drew said that as early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s increases, the opportunities for new treatments will also increase.

“Certainly their life can be better in the process, that’s advantageous,” he said.

Eric Joice, executive director of the nonprofit Caregivers of New Jersey, said the commission is needed. His organization represents many state residents who care for those with Alzheimer’s.

“This is something that’s growing exponentially and the trend line is breathtaking” for the next several decades, Joice said. “Clearly our perspective is that governments – whether it’s the state or the federal -- are going to be hard-pressed to keep up with the demands of this population.”

Joice added that the commission is well-positioned to have an impact.

“Nobody wants another task force where a report’s going to sit on a shelf. That’s even more so for this topic, because of the tsunami that’s represented by the numbers and by the individuals affected,” he said. “I don’t think there’s tremendous promise for grand initiatives and programs, but hopefully there will be some efforts to look at involving the family.”

Joice said the financial impact of early diagnoses is an issue that the commission could help to understand. He added that the state is in a position to gather needed information on the early diagnoses of the disease through its behavioral risk factor survey. This federally funded survey is conducted on an ongoing basis.

“They’re going to do it anyway, so why not include a series of questions about Alzheimer’s?” he asked.

The commission appointees are: Linda Coppinger of Lindenwold; Lynette Whiteman of Toms River; Dr. Stephen M. Scheinthal of Cherry Hill; Dr. Fred A. Kobylarz of Belle Mead; the Rev. Daniel Correa of Middletown; Veronica L. Trathen of Wrightstown; Mary A. Malagiere of Toms River; Robert C. Novy of Brick; and Brooks, who is from Mount Arlington.

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