What Does the “Age Wave” Mean for the Future of Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care in Ohio?

In a recent blog post, CCS Executive Director John Corlett used data from the Cuyahoga County District Profiles to point out that several County Council districts are nearing a tipping point in which their populations over the age of 65 will outnumber children under the age of 18. This trend is, of course, not unique to Cuyahoga County. The Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University estimates that by the year 2030, 28.7 percent of Ohio’s population will be ages 60 and older, up from 19.8 percent in 2010. Ohio’s “age wave” is outpacing the national rate of aging, and presents a number of challenges for policymakers to prepare for.

One of these challenges is an increased prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases that comes with an aging population. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia cause difficulties with memory, language, and problem-solving skills, limiting an individual’s ability to perform everyday tasks. They can also be extremely socially isolating, and place a financial and emotional toll on both the victim and their loved ones, who often serve as primary caretakers.

Over the next eight years, the number of Ohioans living with Alzheimer’s or dementia is expected to rise by 19 percent, totaling 250,000 in 2025, according to estimates by the Alzheimer’s Association. Such an increase will stretch the capacity of Ohio’s health care system, nursing and assisted living facilities, unpaid family caregivers, and communities at large.

The costs of Alzheimer’s and dementia in Ohio today are already substantial, accounting for:

  • 4,083 deaths in 2014, making it the sixth leading cause of death in the state;
  • 680 million hours of unpaid care in 2016 – an estimated value of $8.6 billion;
  • $421 million in higher health care costs borne by unpaid caregivers in 2016;
  • An estimated $2.2 billion in Medicaid costs of caring for people with Alzheimer’s in 2017 (Source: Alzheimer’s Association, 2017 Facts and Figures).

Over the past several months, the challenge of strengthening the support network available for dementia patients and their families has been the focus of the Speaker’s Task Force on Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Chaired by State Representative Dorothy Pelanda, this panel of legislators and outside experts has reviewed the current state of systems impacting older adults with Alzheimer’s to inform possible policy solutions. Topics of discussion at the group’s meetings have included:

  • Types of long-term care and support services offered by community- and facility-based organizations;
  • Access to in-home care services, including those covered under the Medicaid PASSPORT waiver;
  • Professional training standards for assisted living and nursing facilities, and the importance of person-centered care;
  • Supports available for unpaid caregivers, such as respite care provided by adult day centers and proposals for financial relief provided through a Medicaid shared living benefit;
  • The susceptibility of people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia to being victims of elder abuse;
  • Reducing social stigma through “dementia-inclusive” neighborhoods and cities, where community members from first responders to restaurant employees are trained to serve individuals with cognitive impairment in a physically accommodating environment.

The task force’s next step will be to produce a final report summarizing insights gained from expert testimony over the course of its meetings, which can be used to inform potential future legislation around this issue. The Center for Community Solutions will publish updates on any recommendations the task force puts forth, as well as their implications for older Ohioans and their loved ones.