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The number of Coloradans living with Alzheimer’s disease has reached an all time high of 76,000 – a 4.1 percent increase over last year, according to a press release from the Alzheimer’s Association.

The information is from the Alzheimer’s Association 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report.

An additional 256,000 Coloradans voluntarily provided 292 million hours of unpaid care for their loved ones, valued at $3.83 billion last year, based on an estimated economic value of $13.11 per hour.

The number of Coloradans projected to be living with Alzheimer’s will reach 92,000 by 2025, a 21.1 percent increase.

Nationwide 5.8 million people in the U.S. older than 65 are living with the disease. Because of inconsistencies in diagnosis, the total does not include those younger than age 65 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s. That number is believed to exceed several hundred thousand individuals.

Compounding the problem of the number of people who have the disease and the number of those caring for them is the fact that there is a dramatic shortage of specialty physicians to care for the growing number of people with Alzheimer’s. The report found the vast majority of older people diagnosed with dementia never see a dementia care specialist and typically are diagnosed and cared for by nonspecialists.

In Colorado the number of geriatricians in 2019 (89) would need to increase 225 percent to 289 by 2050 to have enough specialists to serve just 10 percent of Coloradans 65 and older who are projected to have Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, the existing shortfall of geriatricians is expected to worsen.

“The continued increase in the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, combined with the shortage of qualified medical professionals, points to the importance of aggressively pursuing research to find a cure,” said Amelia Schafer, executive director of the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “Locally we have raised and invested $2 million in a dozen research projects over the past two years and the National Alzheimer’s Association currently has $157 million invested in more than 500 research projects in 27 countries. We are the leading nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s research in the world.”

A separate survey showed that of more than 1,400 primary care providers, half said the medical profession is not prepared to meet the growing demand of people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Eighty-two percent of primary care physicians (PCPs) say they are on the front lines of providing dementia care, but not all are confident in care of patients with Alzheimer’s and other dementia.

More than nine in 10 PCPs (92 percent) believe patients and caregivers expect them to know the latest thinking and best practices around dementia care.

“The number of people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is increasing, and primary care physicians are telling us the medical profession is not prepared to meet the future demand,” said Joanne Pike, chief program officer.

“The Alzheimer’s Association is committed to working with physicians, health systems, policy makers and others to develop strategies and solutions that ensure timely, high quality dementia care is available for all who need it.”

The full text of the 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, including the accompanying special report, “On the Front Lines: Primary Care Physicians and Alzheimer’s Care in America,” can be viewed at alz.org/facts.

The surveys were conducted during December. Sample size was 1,000 primary care physicians, 200 recent primary care medical residents and 202 recent medical school graduates. To qualify for the study, physicians had to have been in practice at least two years and spend at least 50 percent of their time in direct patient care with at least 10 percent of their patients being age 65 and older. Complete details about survey methodology can be found on page 66 of the report.

Through its statewide network of offices, the Alzheimer’s Association offers education, counseling, support groups and a 24-hour help line at no charge to families. For information call the Alzheimer’s Association free 24/7 bilingual help line at 800-272-3900 or visit alz.org/co.

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