Local news — St. John
Alzheimer’s Disease: A Growing V.I. Concern
The territory will have a legal mandate to develop a detailed plan to address Alzheimer’s disease in the territory, if a bill in the V.I. Legislature becomes law. Human Services, AARP, Schneider Regional Medical Center, the Health Department and private caregivers testified they strongly supported the measure, saying it would be valuable, even without an immediate injection of cash to help address what they said was a growing problem.
"A plan can put us in position to access federal funds should they become available and allow us to advocate for local funds in future budgets," Human Services Commissioner Chris Finch said. He said he was concerned the plan would take longer to complete than the Dec. 31 deadline in the bill, but that Human Services supported the idea and would like to help put it together.
Alzheimer’s disease affects one in eight adults over 65 and almost half of adults over 85 nationwide, Finch said. The first and most notable indicator is poor memory and "diminished ability to perform activities of daily living," he said. Many of those with Alzheimer’s already have multiple chronic medical conditions.
The U.S. Virgin Islands is aging rapidly, with roughly 28 percent of the population 55 or older; 21 percent is at least 60 and 14.5 percent is 65 or older, according to data from the Administration on Aging, Finch said. Those are rapid increases from the 2000 census, which found 12.8 percent age 60 or over and 8.4 percent over 65, he said.
Alzheimer’s patients "strain the capacity" of senior care services, affecting 66 percent of Queen Louise Home for the Aged residents and 64 percent of the Herbert Grigg Home population, Finch said.
Those with the disease are especially at risk of neglect and exploitation, Finch said. "Of the 12 elder abuse clients reported for 2012 who were exploited, 10 had some form" of Alzheimer’s, he said.
Alzheimer’s patients comprise 28 percent of active St. Thomas Adult Protective Services cases and
32 percent of St. Croix cases. Many need 24 hour care and caregivers can often be overwhelmed, Finch said. Many have no family member available to care for them.
Homemaker Services had 167 clients in the St. Thomas/St. John district of whom 40, or 24 percent, were said to have Alzheimer’s. St. Croix numbers were lower, with eight of 156 clients diagnosed with the disease.
To address the challenges, Finch said it would be helpful to:
- create specific programs for Alzheimer’s patients;
- create geriatric training and education classes;
- increase the workforce by training more in geriatric mental and social services;
- public awareness campaigns;
- outreach to health care providers;
- improve data collection and analysis;
- and start adult day care services designed to respond to the needs of functionally or cognitively impaired adults.
Denyce Singleton, director of the AARP of the Virgin Islands, testified about the personal, financial and emotional cost of Alzheimer's care, recounting her own experience of the disease within her family.
Working families need a caregiver during the workweek at an average cost of $20 per hour. "Just to go to work every day I paid approximately $300 to $500 per month, depending on whether we could find a private person or had to use a service," Singleton said. That did not cover weekends or vacations, she said, and prescriptions cost at least $188 per month at current prices.
O'Reilly asked why women formed a higher percentage of patients than men, to which Finch responded it may be because women were more likely to use Human Services programs and were living longer and so comprised a greater percentage of the aged population.
In a similar vein, Singleton said women were more likely to go to a doctor, and hence were more likely to be diagnosed than men.
O'Reilly said during Monday's hearing she would submit amendments to have Human Services develop a separate plan and to extend the timeline.
The Health and Hospitals Committee sent the bill on for consideration by the Rules Committee. Voting yea were Sens Craig Barshinger, Shawn-Michael Malone, Nerieda Rivera-O'Reilly, Patrick Sprauve and Alvin Williams Jr. Absent were Sens. Sammuel Sanes and Usie Richards. Sen. Janette Millin-Young, a noncommittee member, was also present.