A shortage of dementia care workers in Indiana has been gradually growing and will continue to increase, according to the Alzheimer’s Association “2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures” report. This shortage will affect families and their ability to provide high quality care for loved ones in need.
There needs to be a 353% increase in geriatricians in Indiana by 2050 to properly care for 10% of patients 65 years and older, according to the report.
In total, there are 66 geriatricians in Indiana today.
Having access to dementia care workers is vital for providing a quick diagnosis, which gives families the opportunity to plan their critical healthcare decisions. This can mean entering a clinical trial or identifying effective treatment options, Natalie Sutton, executive director of Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter, said.
“With new treatments on the horizon, a timely diagnosis will be critical to ensuring maximum benefit from these newly approved and future treatments for Alzheimer’s disease,” Sutton said.
Among the dementia care workers that are available in Indiana, many don’t receive quality training and aren’t widely available in smaller cities or rural areas. However, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb recently signed legislation that provides training for dementia care workers to reduce burnout among professionals, Sutton said.
A crucial part of diagnosing Alzheimer’s is recognizing the difference between aging and mild cognitive impairment, which is imperative to know when diagnosing Alzheimer’s.
Mild Cognitive Impairment can be a precursor to Alheimer’s disease and is characterized by subtle changes in memory and thinking, according to the report “More than Normal Aging: Understanding Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).”
Accurately diagnosing MCI can be complex. Many people experiencing MCI symptoms don’t communicate effectively with their doctors. According to the report, 77% of primary care physicians agree that MCI is challenging to diagnose.
Many IU health care students will likely work with dementia patients in the future. To help health care workers provide quality assistance to these patients, the Alzheimer's Association has created physician guidelines that help accurately diagnose dementia, Laura Forbes, communication director of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter, said.
“Given the prevalence of the disease, there is no doubt that thousands of IU students have been touched by Alzheimer’s or another dementia in one way or another,” Forbes said. “Many have witnessed the impact of the disease on those living with it, as well as their caregivers.”
The work of geriatricians is demanding but crucial in caring for Indiana families.
IU sophomore Julia Ankney, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing, said geriatrics is a challenging career path because of the impact Alzheimer’s has on families.
“The most challenging fields to work in can also be the most rewarding,” Ankney said.