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Mass. faces an Alzheimer’s epidemic, forecast warns

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Massachusetts is facing an epidemic of people slipping into the shadows of dementia, and lawmakers want to make sure the state is prepared.

The number of people in Massachusetts who have Alzheimer’s and other dementias will increase by 25 percent in just eight years, rising from 120,000 in 2017 to 150,000 in 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“We must ask ourselves: What more can we do to improve our state and our communities’ preparedness for the growing Alzheimer’s and dementia public health crisis?” said state Senator Jason Lewis, cochair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health.

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Lewis noted estimates by the association that the number of cases will triple nationally from more than 5 million now to as many as 16 million by 2050.

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Dementia takes its toll not only on those who get it, but on their families and caregivers. The cost of caring for those with dementias is also a “huge burden on our health care system,” Lewis said.

Lewis, a Winchester Democrat, spoke at a State House hearing called by his committee and the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs that was expected to convene a wide range of experts to talk about next steps the state should take.

The state is already a leader in many areas when it comes to addressing issues raised by
dementias, he said. (Alzheimer’s is the main cause of dementias, accounting for about 70 percent of cases, association officials said.)

Daniel C. Zotos, director of public policy and advocacy for the association’s Massachusetts-New Hampshire chapter, said the association’s focus on the federal level is finding a cure.

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“It’s not a matter of if, but when,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said, “We are on the front lines of this public health crisis on the state level.”

He said one of the state’s successes that other states have followed was the 2010 Silver Alert law, under which alerts are sent out about missing people with cognitive impairment. The law also allowed for the training of more than 10,000 law enforcement officers on how to interact with dementia patients, he said.

The hearing from the outset included personal stories.

State Senator Barbara L’Italien, an Andover Democrat who is cochair of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs, said her mother had lived with Alzheimer’s for five years before dying this year. “This is about as personal as it gets for me,” she said. “Let’s see what we can do.”