State in need of more doctors trained to treat dementia patients

DAYTON — As Ohio’s population continues to age, the state will need more medical specialists and better trained primary care physicians to deal with the anticipated onslaught of Alzheimer’s cases.

That is a key finding in the Alzheimer’s Association 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report. The 2020 Facts and Figures report provides an in-depth look at the latest national and state-specific statistics on Alzheimer’s prevalence, incidence, mortality, costs and impact on caregivers. New disease-related statistics for Ohio revealed:

• There are 220,000 people aged 65 and older currently living with Alzheimer’s disease in the state of Ohio.

• By 2025, that number will climb 13.6 percent to 250,000.

• Last year, there were 163 geriatricians in Ohio. By 2050, the state will need 537 geriatricians to serve 10 percent of those 65 or older, which is a 229 percent increase.

The findings are significant because Ohio’s population is aging rapidly. According to the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University, by 2025, more than one in four Ohioans will be age 60 and older. Increasing age is the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Recruitment of physicians to family practice, general internal medicine and geriatrics is difficult primarily due to the difference in expected income of these specialties versus other subspecialties. It is not uncommon for me to encounter resident physicians in training who will be over $300,000 in debt at the end of their training. If there was a way to subsidize their training it would make recruitment to these underserved specialties less problematic,” Dr. Jeffrey Milks, president of the Ohio Geriatrics Society, said.

Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal brain disease that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed. The new report estimates there are currently 5.8 million Americans 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s — a number expected to nearly triple by 2050.

In addition to new state disease-related data, for the first time, the Facts and Figures accompanying special report, “On the Front Lines: Primary Care Physicians and Alzheimer’s Care in America,” examines the experiences, exposure, training and attitudes related to dementia care among primary care physicians, recent medical school graduates and recent residency program graduates, now in primary care practice.

The report found that 82 percent of primary care physicians said they are on the front lines of providing dementia care but not all are confident in their care for patients with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

• Half (50 percent) of primary care physicians surveyed say the medical profession is not prepared to meet rising demands in Alzheimer’s and dementia care.

• Nearly two in five (39 percent) report they are “never” or only “sometimes comfortable” making a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

• Nearly one-third (27 percent) report they are “never” or only “sometimes comfortable” answering patient questions about Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

• 22 percent of all primary care physicians had no residency training in dementia diagnosis and care. Of the 78 percent who did undergo training, 65 percent reported that the amount was “very little.”

The Alzheimer’s Association is working with Ohio’s health systems to support primary care physicians by providing training and resources to help facilitate timely and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and other dementias and to improve care management after diagnosis. The Association’s Health Systems Initiative is focused on facilitating and enhancing dementia care in the clinical setting.

Through the Association’s Project Echo, primary care physicians are mentored by dementia specialists to improve dementia care for their patients. In addition, the association offers other virtual tools through which physicians can receive up to date information to support the care they provide throughout the continuum of the disease.

The creation of the Alzheimer’s State Task Force, tasked with the goal of creating a comprehensive Alzheimer’s state plan, is a step toward helping Ohio’s 220,000 families affected by Alzheimer’s disease, Addison said. The association will ensure the state has the best data around Alzheimer’s in Ohio.

Individuals affected by Alzheimer’s disease can always call the association’s 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 to access care information as the effects of Alzheimer’s on individuals and families continues to grow.