Alabama Alzheimer’s Disease Task Force launches plan to improve resources

With the help of federal funds, Alabama has launched a task force dedicated to dementia research. The task force focuses on six areas and will propose a plan of action in January 2025.
Photo by Pawel Czerwinski

Alabama Alzheimer’s Disease Task Force launches plan to improve resources

The Alabama Alzheimer’s Disease Task Force made progress recently in its effort to develop and implement a new state plan to target dementia, this time with a new pool of federal funding at its disposal.

“The reason why we’re all here is because of Alzheimer’s, which is certainly an issue that affects our state now and will more so in the future,” said Rep. Ginny Shaver, R-Leesburg, the chair of the task force.

The new pool of federal funding comes courtesy of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through its BOLD grant, with $1.7 million awarded to the Alabama Department of Public Health in 2023 to be paid out over a five-year period.

“The BOLD grant that the state received from the Centers for Disease Control, that is building the largest dementia infrastructure grant for five years,” Shaver later told Alabama Daily News.

Nearly 12% of state’s population affected

Dementia is a term that refers to a group of symptoms that induce memory loss and confusion. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and causes brain cells and their connectors to degenerate and die, causing the loss of memory and certain cognitive abilities.

Nearly 7 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s, with the disease being the fifth leading cause of death in the country.

In 2022, 2,655 Alabamians died from Alzheimer’s, giving the state the second-highest Alzheimer’s death rate in the country, behind only Mississippi. As of 2020, more than 103,000 Alabamians, or 11.8% of the entire state population, was estimated to suffer from Alzheimer’s.

“My 68-year-old sister suffers from dementia, and I take care of her, so this is a personal issue for me,” Shaver told ADN.

“I can tell you first hand that it is quite taxing on caregivers, and I’m probably more connected than most people in seeking out services and finding out what’s available as far as health care and other services for someone with dementia.”

Need for awareness

When asked what she considered to be the largest blindspot for dementia-related care in Alabama, Shaver said it was awareness.

“The biggest thing that I see is people just don’t know where to go, whom to reach out to to try to reach services,” she told ADN. “Not everyone is computer literate, they don’t know whom to call, so I see that as number one: public education and letting the people know where to go to get help.”

Task force members voted to appoint the chairs of several subcommittees, each focusing on six focus areas: caregiver support and education; access to services and resources; public awareness and stigma reduction; health care provider training and education; research and innovation; and policy and advocacy.

Members also finalized a schedule for each subcommittee to finalize their strategy recommendations for each focus area, with plans for the task force to finalize their recommendations in January 2025.

“We have currently around 100,000 Alabamians who suffer from Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, and that rate is increasing at almost 15%,” Shaver said. “The needs are currently great, but they are growing.”

The Alzheimer’s Disease Task Force was established in part by Shaver after she was approached by the Alzheimer’s Association, who encouraged the development of a new state plan to improve resources for those with dementia.

An identically named task force was established back in 2012, the members of which ultimately developed a state plan to target dementia needs in the state through 2015.

With that plan now a decade old, and with cases of dementia and dementia-related deaths rising in Alabama, the new task force is expected to submit its recommendations to lawmakers for a new state plan by the fifth legislative day of the 2025 legislative session in mid-February.

EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Alexander Willis and was originally published by Alabama Daily News. It is reprinted with permission.