Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

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Nevada lawmakers eye plan to better treat Alzheimer’s patients

An estimated 29,000 Nevadans suffer from Alzheimer's disease and there are too few care centers and a shortage of medical professionals to treat them.

And it is one of the most expensive disorders to deal with.

A legislative task force is developing a plan to solve some of these shortages, such as providing incentives for existing treatment homes to expand or to encourage out-of-state, long-term care companies to move to Nevada.

The task force found that only 2,616 licensed beds in residential care facilities are set aside for these patients. And the cost of care can climb to $5,700 per month.

The state is paying $2.3 million a year to out-of-state facilities for 35 patients with Alzheimer's, dementia and behavior problems.

The draft report found the average Medicare payment for an elderly patient with dementia is nearly three times the cost of a patient without the disease.

Task force Chairwoman Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, said much care is being provided by family. "This patient's disease is a family disease," she said. "The family becomes the caretaker."

The draft report said that in 2011 more than 130,000 unpaid caregivers provided at least $1.8 billion in care in Nevada.

One problem is a person with dementia wanders away and forgets where he is going or how to return home. There's a program in Nevada that provides bracelets with the name of the individual and whom to contact. But the task force found this is not widely used.

People with Alzheimer's or dementia present a danger on the road if they are driving. The task force is looking at a recommendation calling for more reliable testing for these persons and providing help in finding alternative methods of transportation.

A strong point of the task force is to provide additional education and training to medical care providers to recognize the disease and ways to treat it.

The task force's final report will be presented to the 2013 Legislature. Wendy Simons, chief of the state Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance, said she hopes this is not just another document that "sits on the shelf."

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