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San Diego County Supes Approve Project To Combat Alzheimer’s

Art specialist Denise McMurtry with one of her Alzheimer's patients in the Memories in the Making art therapy classes.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a series of actions Tuesday designed to combat Alzheimer's disease — the third leading cause of death in the region — and help caregivers.

The county's Alzheimer's Project brought together local elected officials, researchers, caregivers and other experts. Their discussions, lasting months, focused on funding research, providing care, developing diagnostic standards and raising awareness on the signs of the disease.

"We are here today for all those with this disease and all those that care for them," Supervisor Dianne Jacob said. "No one should have to face this disease alone."

The recommendations resulting from the roundtable discussions included:

— starting a San Diego-based fundraising campaign called "Part the Clouds" to spur innovation and drug discovery;

— developing countywide standards for the screening, diagnosis and management of Alzheimer's and other dementia-related conditions;

— increasing awareness of and recruiting more volunteers for clinical trials;

— exploring the creation of a regional registry that would connect patients and physicians with researchers;

— enhancing training for those who work with Alzheimer's patients;

— expanding services, respite care and support for families; and

— improving the sheriff's department's "Take Me Home" program to increase access to GPS devices to help find patients who wander off.

The experts who came up with the recommendations now have three months to come up with a plan to enact the recommendations.

Jacob and Supervisor Dave Roberts said Alzheimer's is "reaching epidemic proportions" in the county, with an estimated 60,000 residents living with the disease or a related form of dementia. That number is expected to balloon to 100,000 by 2030.

The condition is taking a toll on families and healthcare providers and is only expected to get worse. According to Jacob and Roberts, around 80 percent of patients are cared for at home.

"Alzheimer's devastates families, claims lives and wears down caregivers who are often family members," Roberts said. "Caregivers struggle with their own mental and physical health while caring for a loved one."

Alzheimer's also costs the regional economy around $75 million annually, the supervisors said.

Among those involved in developing the recommendations were San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Sheriff Bill Gore, Mary Ball, president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties, and philanthropist Darlene Shiley.

Shiley is the widow of prosthetic heart valve inventor Donald Shiley and lost her mother, an aunt and an uncle to Alzheimer's. She pledged $100,000 to the Part the Clouds effort.

"It's a subject we all have a tough time talking about and dealing with, especially those of us who have lost loved ones to the disease or another form of dementia," Shiley said. "But you know we have to talk about it. We must deal with it. It's here. We have to confront the epidemic, and frankly the terrible toll it takes on families and the communities."

Physicians and researchers with the Salk Institute, The Scripps Research Institute, UC San Diego, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and other organizations also took part.

Separately, the supervisors directed staffers to lobby the state Department of Veterans Affairs to create a Memory Care Unit at the Chula Vista Veterans Home. Four other veterans homes operated by the state have Memory Care Units.

"These are our living heroes who made great sacrifices for their country and deserve the highest and best medical care that can be provided to them," Supervisor Greg Cox said. "Our veterans were there for us when we needed them, and we need to be there for them when they need us most."


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