(WTAJ)—The Alzheimer’s Association released alarming numbers about multiple topics of Alzheimer’s within their 2023 Facts and Figures Report.

This annual report went in depth about caregivers’ condition and the economic impact on their state. Additionally, it discussed the barriers patients and caregivers face in preventing early diagnosis.

There are 280,000 people with Alzheimer’s currently, and that will increase by 14 percent by 2025. However, a special report found that patients are reluctant to see a doctor early and wait till there are noticeable symptoms.

The report found only 40% of Americans would talk to their doctor right away when experiencing symptoms of mild cognitive impairment. That lack of communication between patients and doctors post many challenges that prevent early diagnosis.

These challenges include a patient wanting to discuss more with a family member; assumptions about what the doctor will say; a desire for inclusive conversations; perceived risks that could outweigh the benefits.

On the other hand, physicians said they wait for the patients or family members to investigate further. When physicians don’t have the confidence they refer to a specialist, which is already in a workforce shortage. In Pennsylvania, there are only 232 geriatricians.

“We go back to the workforce shortage that we talked about, not enough specialists, specialties, and not enough referral options for those that do have a diagnosis,” Alzheimer’s Association of Greater PA Vice President of Programs and Services Sara Murphy said. “So, primary care physicians are concerned to follow up cause there aren’t many options for them for that, so that’s a barrier.”

Murphy said Alzheimer’s/Dementia is one of the costlier diseases in the country. In the state, caregivers do over $10 billion in unpaid labor care. Nearly half of America’s caregivers are those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

This statistic is causing caregivers to be under emotional, physical, and financial stress. Additionally, the workforce shortage of in-home care workers leaves many family members to work on their own.

Long-term Living Program Supervisor at Blair Senior Services, Lisa Moyer said the county’s primary caregiver group is through their support program. The other option to help adults with activities closed down a few years ago.

“Those are the agencies that families are going to when they need a break to hire. To hire someone to come in to be with their loved one while they’re working or even just to give them a break or something like that. Also in our county, we had one of the major adult daily living providers–which is a day program for older adults close down–so it was another hit to the major to the availability of respite care to our community.”

Executive Director of the Huntingdon, Bedford, Fulton Area Agency on Aging Connie Brode said it’s a lot to care for a loved one. Then, it’s important to look for solutions to combat the issue.

“It’s a lot, and when you’re looking at a shortage of direct care workers to help right now help assist those families,” Brode said. “You’re feeling the stress and the needs of those family members who are trying to provide care to their loved one. We’re looking for innovative solutions to try to address the issues.”

The figures show 56% of Pennsylvania caregivers have at least one chronic health condition. Then, 13% of caregivers report having poor health. Murphy said it’s ideal to stress the resources available to caregivers.

“Alarmingly over 74 percent of caregivers report they are somewhat concerned or very concerned about maintaining their health,” Murphy said. “We know that they’re concerned about it, but how can we as a community, help provide support to our caregivers. I think that’s something we want to lift up.”

Blair Senior Services and HBF Area Agency on Aging both provide Caregiver Support Program. This program provides up to $600 in reimbursement for caregivers for direct care and supplies.
Brode said they expect an increase in the program this year. That’s due to the increasing number of caregivers and people living with the disease.

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“We’re seeing an increase in the number of caregivers who are reaching out for services,” Brode said. “The rise of individuals living longer and the rise of individuals living with dementia. We anticipate an increase in that particular service.”

Murphy said it’s important caregivers are given resources and prepped early on. The lack of resources can only lead to their health continuing to deteriorate.

“Connecting them with resources can help them from avoiding some of these challenges that we’re seeing in overall health because they’re taking it all in on their own,” Murphy said. “It’s not possible. People have done it, but also we’re seeing, the numbers, and it’s not possible.”

Brode said beginning in April, they’ll begin “Dementia Friends” classes which discuses how dementia affects the brain, and the steps needed to provide proper care and making the experience positive.