Taking aim at Alzheimer’s disease

By Supervisor Dave Roberts

The Board of Supervisors has taken aim at Alzheimer’s disease.

The County of San Diego is the region’s largest provider of public health services, and by a 5-0 vote earlier this month, my colleagues and I agreed to confront Alzheimer’s disease, one of the region’s leading health issues.

Chairwoman Dianne Jacob and I brought forward legislation to launch the Alzheimer’s Project.

The Alzheimer’s Project involves:

•Working closely with the Alzheimer’s Association to solicit guidance from research institutes and the private sector to build partnerships, seek funding and explore legislative actions. The Board of Supervisors will host a conference this fall to review the recommendations;

•Engaging caregivers to develop a plan to improve our regional network of services. Caregivers will be important participants in our conference this fall;

•Developing Alzheimer’s disease education and public awareness campaigns that identify early signs of Alzheimer’s disease; and

•Certifying the Board of Supervisors’ support for the federal Alzheimer’s Accountability Act and other legislation that increases funding for research and provides additional resources to caregivers, family members and patients.

For me, this issue is personal — I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease. I remember my grandmother as outgoing and energetic. Over the course of several years, though, a cloud cover settled over her as the disease steadily robbed her of her memory.

In varying degrees, almost all of us have been affected by the disease, as statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association show.

The Association reports that Alzheimer’s disease is reaching epidemic proportions. It continues to escalate as our population ages. More than 60,000 local residents live with the disease and that figure is expected to double by 2030.

According to the Association, the death rate from Alzheimer’s in San Diego County is among the highest in California and is the region’s third -leading cause of death.

Also affected are caregivers.

I am concerned about the demands placed upon caregivers. In San Diego County, 80 percent of patients are cared for at home by more than 150,000 family members.

The cost of care can be staggering. If relatives cannot care for loved ones on their own, they face inevitable and inescapable costs for assisted care. Alzheimer’s disease bankrupts the mind and the pocketbook.

The county is the one public agency above all others that is in the caregiver business. We must establish various kinds of caregiving help.

At our meeting this month, Mary Ball, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association’s local chapter, told the Board of Supervisors that the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association is to go out of business.

“With the county’s leadership,” Ms. Ball said, “we can make San Diego County a model for addressing Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dave Roberts represents the Third District on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.