Undercounted Alzheimer’s Cases Spur Legislative Action

Source: NJ Spotlight
An estimated 170,000 people in New Jersey suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, but many of these cases are undiagnosed. That number is expected to rise to 210,000 by 2025, and an effort is underway to ensure that these residents aren’t undercounted and don’t receive inadequate care.
Several legislative efforts are seeking to do just that. One bill would ensure that doctors know they can list Alzheimer’s as a secondary cause of death. The goal of another is to make certain that new home health aides receive Alzheimer’s-specific training. A third measure would require hospitals to prominently note on patients’ records that they have the disease so that they are treated appropriately by staff.

Assemblyman Carmelo G. Garcia (D-Hudson) introduced all three bills. He said in a statement that studies have found that the true number of deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s and related disorders may be six times as high as the number officially recorded.

While Alzheimer’s ranks as one of the leading causes of death in New Jersey (different lists put it anywhere from fifth to seventh), it may actually be undercounted, according to Linda Coppinger, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s South Jersey regional office.
“If they died from exposure from wandering, or choking if they can’t eat or drink properly,” doctors may not be accurately recording this, Coppinger said at a hearing on S-2961/A-4188, the bill that focuses on Alzheimer’s as a secondary cause of death.
Act Now Foundation Executive Director Karen Lopez said that all of the bills are aimed at increasing public understanding of a pervasive health problem that’s inadequately understood. She said her own mother likely had the disease for a decade before she was diagnosed six years ago. She’s since lost the ability to walk, talk, dress herself, bathe herself, chew, swallow, or recognize any family members or friends.
“This disease is devastating to everyone around” the person, Lopez said. “We are sounding the alarm not to scare people, but just to give them knowledge.”
Home Care & Hospice Association of New Jersey President and CEO Chrissy Buteas said she welcomed working with the legislators on the training bill. She said she wanted to ensure that the training that’s currently provided by some home-health organizations is recognized as sufficient under the legislation. She added that the entire curriculum required by the Board of Nursing should be reexamined.
Codey also sponsored a resolution, which was passed by both houses of the Legislature without opposition, calling on Congress to double Alzheimer’s research funding, with a goal of reaching $2 billion annually. Codey noted that Alzheimer’s diagnoses are increasingly rapidly “and it’s only going to get worse” as the population ages.
“If this disease were something else, like cancer or heart disease, there’d be a march on Washington” demanding more research, said Codey, whose father died of Alzheimer’s.
The Senate passed all three measures unanimously. The Assembly versions have been referred to the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.

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