- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York state is making an unprecedented investment in care for people with Alzheimer’s disease, setting aside $50 million in the next two years to expand respite care, support groups and other services for those with the condition and their loved ones.

It’s the single largest amount committed to Alzheimer’s patients and their families by any state, according to the New York State Alzheimer’s Association Chapters.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the only one of the top 10 causes of death that cannot be prevented or cured. More than five million Americans currently live with the disease. It’s also devastating to the spouses, children and other relatives who act as caregivers.

Suzanne Campbell’s husband Bill was diagnosed 10 years ago, a year after the Brooklyn couple married. She kept working full time at her human resources job while caring for Bill, now 72. The emotional, physical and financial tolls grew quickly.

“It consumes your life,” she said of the disease, which also claimed her mother’s life two years ago. “It’s a monster… and it’s unmerciful. It was clear I needed help. I was really starting to crack up.”

Campbell called a national 24-hour helpline - 800-272-3900 - which offers information on the disease and connects callers with community services. She joined a support group for people caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s.

“It’s practical advice: where do you buy supplies? How do you manage care? How do you deal with certain behaviors?” she said. “It’s also a place where you can talk about feelings.”

In addition to funding the helpline and support groups, the money will pay for training, community outreach and respite care so family members looking after someone with Alzheimer’s get an occasional break.

Another chunk of the money will pay to expand centers around the state that diagnose and treat those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The funding is intended to save money in future years by helping those with Alzheimer’s stay in their homes - and out of far more costly medical facilities.

“It’s a wise investment of taxpayer money, an unprecedented investment in family caregivers,” said Bill Ferris, legislative director for AARP New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed the increase, which was included in the state budget approved by lawmakers last week.

“This funding,” Cuomo said in a statement, “will give hard-working New Yorkers who are also caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s the training, education, and much-needed support services. Taking on this responsibility can be a full-time job in itself, and this program will allow these caregivers to care for themselves, as well.”

Campbell still works full time and has hired in-home workers to help care for her husband when she can’t. She lauded the increased state funding and said more money must be put toward treatment research too, so that others may be spared her husband’s fate.

“We lost our future,” she said, adding that she has no regrets. “He changed my life. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

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