- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Wisconsin Assembly task force released recommendations Tuesday to improve care for those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in communities across the state.

The six new recommendations include increasing funding for dementia research, addressing a shortage of health care providers, improving response to dementia-related crisis situations and promoting education about dementia in schools. It also recommends examining the state’s guardianship laws and continuing dementia-support programs in the Department of Health Services.

“We know there are no quick fixes, we know that there’s no simple solutions, but I’m proud of this bipartisan effort,” said Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who created the task force in August 2015.

The recommendations in the report are relatively broad and offer multiple possible solutions. For example, to address the shortage of dementia-capable health care providers, the task force suggests mandating training for certified nursing aides, incentivizing dementia training at long-term care facilities and requiring or encouraging physicians to provide information about dementia to caregivers at the time of diagnosis. Another suggestion is to develop high school jobs programs that work directly with long-term care facilities.

In addition to improving care for those with dementia, task force chairman Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah, emphasized increasing awareness among children, city clerks, servers and others who regularly interact with individuals with dementia.

“Not unlike mental health, there’s a stigma about dementia that exists,” Rohrkaste said. “People don’t want to talk about it openly, they don’t want to deal with it openly, and when they do, there’s better forms of care and there are resources out there.”

Rohrkaste said his children have a “less than favorable memory” of his mother, who suffered from dementia.

If schools can improve the understanding of dementia among children, Rohrkaste said, it will improve the quality of life for all family members.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in Wisconsin. The Alzheimer’s Association says more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to grow rapidly in coming years as baby boomers age.

The Legislature passed three bills this year stemming from the task force’s initial recommendations and call for a county-based dementia crisis unit pilot program, allocating an additional $1 million for the state’s Alzheimer’s family and caregiver support program and creating state grants for dementia training for mobile crisis teams.

“The Legislature took us a good way down the field in the session, but we obviously have farther to go,” said Rob Gundermann, public policy director for the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin.

Seven other bills didn’t make it through the Senate but might be reintroduced next session, Rohrkaste said. Some of the measures would have funded virtual dementia tours, provided more funding for Alzheimer’s research at University of Wisconsin-Madison and required informed consent before administering psychotropic medications in nursing homes and require reviews of Silver Alert subjects’ driver’s licenses.

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