Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a landmark bill this past week that has been hailed as a first-in-the-nation effort to require that medical professionals undergo training in the diagnosis, treatment, and care of patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
The legislation also requires physicians who have diagnosed Alzheimer’s in a patient to inform a family member or legal representative about the diagnosis and mandates that all hospitals, no later than Oct. 1, 2021, develop and put into practice a plan for recognizing and managing patients with dementia.
In some respects, the legislation almost mimics the “mandatory reporter” requirements of suspected child abuse for health and other caregivers. That such a bill in the area of suspected dementia is necessary no doubt comes as a surprise to most of us, who always assumed that professional caregivers would have been on top of such issues when dealing with a patient, similar to how they address patients who demonstrate symptoms of any other physical ailment.
But assessing whether a patient is showing signs of dementia — of which Alzheimer’s is just one aspect — apparently is not all that simple. In addition, even if health care professionals suspect the presence of dementia, the combination of privacy laws, a lack of training, and a desire not to get involved, so to speak, may result in the avoidance of presenting family members with their suspicions.
However, with the Baby Boomers rapidly aging and the number of Americans being diagnosed with dementia-related diseases increasing exponentially, it is imperative that both families and individuals be made aware of a diagnosis of dementia as soon as possible.
Although there presently are no cures for Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases, the sooner that individuals and family members become aware of a diagnosis, the sooner they can put into place a plan that will address the issues that such patients are facing.
Given the escalating costs of providing health care for older Americans, with implications for our society and our economy, developing an early-response plan to this particularly-insidious disease will benefit all of us in the long run.