Thursday, December 20, 2007

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

The Looming Alzheimer’s Epidemic: A Real 21st Century Challenge For Westchester’s Medical Community

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 72 seconds, someone in our nation develops this dreaded disease. The Association estimates that 5 million Americans aged 65 (1 in 8) already have Alzheimer’s. It is
already the fifth leading cause of death for this age group. From 2000 to 2004, deaths from heart disease,
strokes, and certain cancers decreased by as much as 10% while deaths from Alzheimer’s increased by one third. Presently, Alzheimer’s causes almost 10% of the deaths in New York State.

Currently, the direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias amount to more than $148 billion
annually. A recent study by the National Institute of Health confirmed that the prevalence of dementia increases
significantly with age: 5% of the population for ages 71 – 79; 24% of ages 80 – 89; and 30% for those 90 years old and older. The National Institute for Aging believes that almost 50% of individuals over 90 could be affected.

To quote the National Institute of Health: “Advancing age is the most common known risk factor for Alzheimer’s”. And as the baby boom generation ages, and our life expectancies increase, this risk is growing.
Johns Hopkins University has projected that victims of dementia will increase to over 10.3 million by 2047
– or 1 in every 45 Americans. By 2050, that number could grow to 16 million – a 300% increase over current levels. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, by that date, more than 60% of people with Alzheimer’s will be 85 or older.

The increase of dementia victims will pose a medical and economic crisis for our local communities long before
2047. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this looming epidemic will cost Medicare and Medicaid over $160 billion by the year 2010 – less than three years away. Medicare and Medicaid are only partially funded through payroll taxes, premiums paid by beneficiaries, and the federal government – the balance is funded by each state and passed through to local communities.

Worse, the medical studies predict a 27% increase in cases by 2020 and a 70% increase by 2030. And these
estimates are only for Alzheimer’s disease – they do not include victims of vascular dementia from strokes, or patients with other geriatric conditions destined as cognitive impairment, falls, incontinence, low body mass index, dizziness, vision impairment, hearing impairment which already impact 50% of adults 65 and older. Obese studies also do not include the indirect victims of these diseases and conditions.

As the population ages, their declining health and abilities, and increasing dementia, affects not just the victims,
but their families and communities as well. Many caregivers lose their jobs or must quit working to care for an affected family member. In 2002, the cost to workers responsible for caring for Alzheimer’s patients already
exceeded $36 billion nationwide.

In addition to lost income and increased expenses, such workers are paying less in income taxes due to their
reduced or eliminated earnings. Therefore our local communities suffer economic setbacks from each Alzheimer’s
patient in several areas – the added Medicare and Medicaid payments for the victims, the support services required such as additional Para-transit vehicles, the loss in local buying power and income tax revenues from the
care-givers, and the loss of local buying power of the victims.

Scientists project that a delay in the onset of this disease in its victims for even one year could result in a benefit of
over $1 trillion. But such medical developments could still be years away. And our communities are facing this crisis on an increasing basis daily. The local solution for Westchester is clearly to allow caregivers to be employed for as long as possible and to provide the victims with a level of care that enables them to maintain their
health and abilities longer. The National Alzheimer’s Association lauds a local care facility, “My Second Home” in Mt. Kisco, as the perfect model for how Alzheimer’s victims, and their families, should be cared for.

My Second Home is an Adult Day Care Program run by the Family Services of Westchester, a non-profit organization. The Director of this facility, Ms. Rina Bellamy, states that their purpose is not only to provide care to its participants, but also to encourage “productive aging”. To achieve that goal, My Second Home is an intergenerational facility that shares a building, programs, and events, with the Mt. Kisco Day Care Center. Ms. Bellamy believes that “adults who are stimulated stay healthier” and that the social model provided by the center gives the participants a rhythm and purpose to their days.

Many elderly patients suffer from varying degrees of depression due to physical limitations, economic difficulties,
and grieving for loss of friends and family. According to Ms. Bellamy, facili-ties such as My Second Home provide “a second family” for their participants – from connecting with the children over art projects, to reminiscing with individuals their own age, to support from the staff and social workers. That interconnection
is extended to the families so that, as Ms. Bellamy notes: “everyone is working together as a community”.

The center offers a variety of programs to cater to all cultures, genders, and desires. The participants may take piano lessons or plant vegetables in the garden with the children for use in the center’s kitchens. Ms. Bellamy
believes that such productivity allows the participants to feel valuable and contributes to their self-esteem by helping them remember and connect to prior achievements in their lives. As Ms. Bellamy points out: our participants are adults who have lived productive and interesting lives. They are positive role models for aging”.
The goal of the Family Services of Westchester is to “keep families together”.

In doing so, they place less of a financial burden on our local communities to provide services. Such facilities delay the need for nursing homes, relieving the economic demands on Medicare and Medicaid from these individuals and allowing them the ability to choose their care for themselves, rather than having to adhere to stringent Federal rules.

While the need for these facilities is growing, the local funding for them is not. My Second Home currently
struggles to survive and depends on contributions and local support, in addition to fees charged to participants.

Currently, 167,000 individuals, or one in five Westchester County residents, are aged 60 or older. The Westchester Partnership for Aging Services notes that this is nearly twice the national average.

The County has already planned for an increase in its Medicaid costs of $5.4 million in 2008 but claims that
“this increase has no effect on the tax levy, as the county prudently set aside a reserve fund for this. The remainder of funds in this reserve account will continue to provide tax payer relief for Medicaid increases for future years”.

However, the budget fails to note how the county is preparing for the increase in Alzheimer’s patients and services and the drop in taxes from their caregivers. Indeed, the county’s 2008 budget and capital plans do not specifically make any mention of how our local governments intend to cope with this looming crisis.

The Alzheimer’s crisis is no longer an issue for debate – in 2007, the eldest baby boomers already turned 60. For the next 19 years, one boomer will turn 60 every 7.5 seconds. Conscious of their increased need for
medical care, and the related costs, “boomers” are already planning for the inevitable.

But in addition to long-term care insurance and other traditional plans, marketing consultants are also noting
a growing “trend toward expatriation among boomers seeking locales more progressive about healthcare”.
They’re literally jumping ship for fairer shores. And taking their money with them. It’s time for our county and local governments to acknowledge the growing health care crisis facing the elderly in our midst. The county needs
to develop and fund more facilities like My Second Home to help caregivers provide for their loved ones in our local communities. We need long-term plans to keep our families together and our communities intact. Just like global warming, this crisis has the potential to affect us all. And like global warming, there is no more time to wait.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vital Statistics Reports

2. National Institute on Aging – press release October 30, 2007

3. Department of Biostatistics, School of Hygiene and Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

4. Contact info: 95 Radio Circle, Mt. Kisco, NY 10549; phone: 914-241-0770; email:


6. Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers: Perceptions, Principles, Practices, Predictions, Paramount Market

Northern Westchester Round-Up

Cortlandt: State officials and environmental advocates hosted a Global Warming Forum on November 28. Attendees learned about new technologies, trends, and government initiatives. A second suspect was charged in
the Thanksgiving Eve cross-burning incident.

Ossining: Town officials presented an overview of a Comprehensive Plan for local development. The plan will address environmental and economic issues as well as developing the waterfront and maintaining the historical integrity of the village.

Tarrytown: A town Walgreen’s store was robbed at gunpoint. The incident occurred at mid-day on December 8th. The male robber threatened the store managers and forced them to open the store safe at gunpoint.

Yorktown Heights: Local seniors met with state, county, and town officials to discuss building a new senior center for the town. The town is investigating several sites for the center which will provide increased room for more activities for seniors.

– Catherine Wilson

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