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Published on April 04, 2019

At the forefront of a growing epidemicAt the forefront of a growing epidemic

On August 15, 2018, Governor Charlie Baker signed a new law designed to improve treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in Massachusetts. It’s the first law in the nation of its kind, putting the Commonwealth at the forefront of handling a growing epidemic that affects so many lives of both patients and caregivers.

“We really need legislation like this because we have about 15,000 people on Cape Cod living with some form of dementia, and that number is expected to climb up to 30,000 in the next decade. It’s a crisis on the local level and on the state level,” said Hyannis neurologist Sean Horrigan, DO.

The reason Alzheimer’s and dementia are showing up in greater numbers is mainly because people are living longer, he said. Since Cape Cod is a retirement community, there are more cases here than in areas with a younger population.

“The goal of the law is to really help families grappling with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and try to improve how the Commonwealth handles Alzheimer’s disease, because it’s under-recognized,” Dr. Horrigan said. “It really is becoming a bigger threat to public health in general, not just in our state, but across the country.”

The Massachusetts Alzheimer’s and Dementia Act contains the following provisions, according to the state website,

  • It creates an advisory council and an integrated state plan to effectively address Alzheimer’s disease.
  • It requires that Alzheimer’s and dementia training be incorporated into physicians’, physician assistants’, registered nurses’ and practical nurses’ continuing medical education programs that are required to obtain or renew their licenses.
  • It allows doctors to share an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and treatment plan with a family member or legal personal representative, within the existing framework of federal and state privacy laws.
  • It requires hospitals that serve an adult population to have an operational plan in place within the next three years for recognizing and managing individuals with dementia.
  • It requires elder protective services caseworkers to be trained about Alzheimer’s disease.

“Cape Cod Healthcare has already made big steps in this area,” said Dr. Horrigan. “I would say that Cape Cod Healthcare is already ahead of the game in a lot of respects, which is pretty exciting.”

One of the most comprehensive things that has already been done is that Neurologists of Cape Cod providers have spent the past year working to establish the Memory Care Center of Cape Cod right at their office. They have created a protocol for diagnosis and care and are educating both primary care offices and the general public on how to recognize signs of cognitive impairment and dementia related illnesses.

“The earlier we can catch these diseases, the more help we can provide to both patients and their families,” Dr. Horrigan said.