Beyond the Diagnosis: State struggles with number of Alzheimer’s cases

Local

WICHITA, Kans. (KSNW) – Alzheimer’s is now so prevalent, it’s soon expected to affect one in every eight baby boomers in Kansas.

Yet some advocates for senior care say the state is not prepared.

Greg Williams

“She got in her car one day and drove off,” said Greg Williams, recalling the moment his siblings finally realized their mother had Alzheimer’s. “We were horrified.”

The man known for decades as “The Hitman” on Wichita radio became a stranger to his own mom.

“Looking at me, it was a blank stare,” said Williams, shaking his head.

Grim forecast

That heartache will affect many more Kansans in the future.

A report commissioned by Governor Jeff Colyer and released in January says 53,000 Kansans have Alzheimer’s right now. By 20-25, that number will increase 17%.

“And by the time you turn 85, you have a 50/50 chance,” said Mitzi McFatrich, executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care.

She worked on the governor’s study and says an action plan was long overdue.

“Kansas was the last state in the nation to undertake such a plan,” said McFatrich.

As a result, she says, most adult care facilities are understaffed to handle those with Alzheimer’s, and the state requires only one hour of dementia training.

Click image to zoom.

“Any facility can hang out a shingle and say, ‘We provide memory care,’ and there are no standards that apply all across the state,” said McFatrich. “In one facility, memory care may mean they have a locked unit. It means your loved one can’t wander off, but it also means they are literally locked up.”

She says the vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s are being cared for at home, but many families, like Greg Williams, quickly feel overwhelmed.

“It was really tough after that because we didn’t know where to go,” said Williams. “We ended up at one place, and she got out in the middle of the night.”

Choosing a care facility

So what should families look for?

Adequate staffing is key.

McFatrich says memory care should have one staff member for every four to five residents, and employees need to be trained how to calm a person without drugs.

“Something as simple as a walk outside, a one-on-one activity or even a whirlpool bath could be even more effective than any medication,” said Courtney Wolfe, executive director of Wichita Presbyterian Manor.

She says staffing there is one employee per six residents.

“Our staff receives numerous opportunities for additional education, either through computer programming or onsite training,” said Wolfe. “We recently did a virtual dementia tour where our staff were able to experience what it would feel like to live with Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

Her staff is also trained to read a person’s body language.

“Not always can residents vocalize what their needs are so staff needs to interpret and know what a facial expression might mean or what behaviors might mean,” said Wolfe.

“And you don’t get that (at other facilities), when you have one aide to 30 people or one aide to 15 people,” said McFatrich.

She says locked doors are a must at a memory care facility, but residents should still get time outdoors and with others who don’t have dementia.

Finally, families should ask to see a facility’s yearly inspection report.

“So get a list how many times the facility has been red-flagged because the state has to come out and investigate after they get a report,” said Williams.

Prepare to pay

He also warns that families need to prepare for the high price tag of memory care.

Greg Williams

Williams’ mother was a teacher for 36 years, but paying for long-term care wiped out her finances.

“We had to sell her house. We had to sell her car,” said Williams. “She had a will. She had everything laid out who was going to get what, but no one prepared for this!”

Memory care can cost anywhere from $5,000 a month to $8,000, depending on the level of care needed, insurance, and whether it’s a private room.

Like the Williams family, McFatrich says many Kansans are not prepared, financially or emotionally, to deal with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, but learning more about the disease now can help.

Greg Williams’ family eventually found a safe place for their mom, where she lived until her death at age 91. It gives him peace knowing her last memories were good ones.

Sedgwick County inspection reports

Inspection reports for all of Kansas

Kansas Adult Care Home Directory and Inspection Reports

Helpful links

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