The Alzheimer's Project


San Diego County Board of Supervisors

Steve Schmidt, 619-206-9108, steve.schmidt@sdcounty.ca.gov
Itica Milanes, 619-307-1793, itica.milanes@sdcounty.ca.gov




The Board of Supervisors today [3/21/17] launched an initiative to help the growing number of seniors who end up in crisis.

At the urging of Chairwoman Dianne Jacob and Vice-Chairwoman Kristin Gaspar, the board asked county and health experts to develop a model for those with Alzheimer’s disease who are in emergency situations.

“Too often, seniors who suffer from dementia end up in a hospital bed or even a jail cell when steering them to needed services and programs might be the best option,” Jacob said.

The effort is an outgrowth of The Alzheimer’s Project, the county-led initiative to find a cure and help families struggling with the disease. The county today released the project’s latest annual report, which lists a wide range of regional improvements and 2017 goals.

"If there's ever going to be a cure for Alzheimer's, I'm convinced it's going to come out of San Diego County,” Gaspar said. “Sadly, the need for services in this community is growing at a fast pace and we must keep up to ensure a comfortable quality of life for them."

In her recent State of the County speech, Jacob highlighted the growing concern among caregivers, physicians and others about the absence of a clear model to help dementia patients in crisis situations, such as a medical emergency or law enforcement issue.

Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa and the Grossmont Healthcare District are teaming up with the county to develop and test a protocol to assist these seniors and steer them to needed services.

“Despite the fact that there's no treatment, Alzheimer's disease is creating a crisis in local emergency rooms,” said Mary Ball, CEO and president of Alzheimer’s San Diego. “People with Alzheimer's are admitted twice as often and the cost of caring for them in emergency rooms and hospitals is three times higher than people of the same age without the disease.”

San Diegans with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are seen by local hospitals about 30,000 times a year, while the number of Sheriff’s Department calls involving seniors is on the rise.

County officials expect the number of seniors who find themselves in crisis to continue to rise, noting that those 65 and older are the fastest-growing age group in the region.

“The care and treatment of people with dementia represents one of our most challenging public health concerns,” said Dr. Michael Plopper, chief medical officer with Sharp Behavioral Health Services. “Often, admission to a hospital is a pathway of last resort for caregivers of loved ones with dementia. We need to develop non-traditional partnerships to address our immediate needs in San Diego County. This board vote today represents just such an effort.”

San Diego’s top brain researchers, public universities, health care systems, elected leaders and others have come together under the umbrella of The Alzheimer’s Project to launch a series of improvements since 2014.

They include beefing up safeguards for those at risk of wandering and developing the region’s first standards for the diagnosis and treatment of dementia.

With the support of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and philanthropist Darlene Shiley, the project has also spawned a spinoff, Collaboration4Cure, a research incubator on Torrey Pines Mesa led by local scientists and Alzheimer’s San Diego.

This year’s goals for The Alzheimer’s Project include the creation of a dementia screening app for primary care doctors and expanded services for caregivers.

“While we are pleased with the progress so far, in many ways, our work is just starting,” Jacob and Gaspar write in a joint letter included in the project’s new annual report.