Alzheimer’s rates expected to double over next 20 years

REGION — Over the next 20 years, the population of San Diegans over the age of 65 years old will more than double.

As the population ages, the healthcare industry will be faced with challenges to accommodate the increase in degenerative diseases.

This was the topic at a summit held Tuesday by the San Diego North Economic Development Council with Tri-City Medical Center at the Veterans Association of North County.

One of the focuses of the summit was the effect Alzheimer’s has on San Diegans.

It is the third leading cause of death in the city, according to Mary Ball, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

The disease has no cure, nor treatment and many families are forced to become caregivers for the duration of the disease, which can last between eight and 10 years.

Leslie Ray, senior epidemiologist with the County of San Diego said the city is facing an epidemic.

“This is a huge epidemic that is upon us and we have to do something with how we manage this disease or we’re going to face a real disaster,” said Ray.

The most powerful force affecting the regional healthcare system, according to Director of Rehabilitation at Scripps Michael Lobatz, MD, is the generational change.

He said it will not only affect those needing care, but it will have emotional and economic effects on those taking over the caregiver role.

One of the challenges many family caregivers face is that care for Alzheimer patients often isn’t reimbursable, even though a quarter of all Medicare spending is used on people from the Baby Boomer generation with Alzheimer’s.

People born between 1946 and 1964 are considered Baby Boomers.

Another issue faced within the healthcare community is the lack of a universally accepted diagnostic tool to recognize the symptoms of the disease.

A roundtable discussion was formed out of representatives from research institutes about a year ago to address the problem and Lobatz said, the doctors involved have come up with a quick screening tool which is being used as a pilot program by a select group of primary care doctors.

“We’ve developed a simple, algorithmically driven screening process for a primary care physician to be able to make an initial impression within five or six minutes of seeing that patient,” said Lobatz.

The doctors will give feedback and continue to work on the system, which Lobatz believes, could make a big difference in diagnosing patients with Alzheimer’s.

While strides in diagnosis are extremely important Ball said the most important hurdle to stopping the disease is finding a drug.

“At the end of the day we need a drug that will slow this disease,” said Ball.

As a component to the clinical roundtables, the doctors are addressing this need and discussing progress.

“A lot of work has been put into it and we’re starting to make some progress,” Ball said.

In the mean time, Lobatz said the county will upload the diagnosis algorithm to the county’s website so more doctors and patients can access it.

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