The announcement by Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) that his wife has early onset dementia is spurring an effort to provide more programs in the county for those suffering from the disease — while Baker is pushing for more increased promotion of existing resources.
People suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease show signs of a loss of brain function that affects behavior, memory and language; Alzheimer’s is a version of dementia with irreversible damage, according to the National Institutes of Health website.
Baker, who revealed recently in The Washington Post that his wife, Christa Beverly, 52, was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2010, said it was difficult finding a support system. He said he received information from the Alzheimer’s Association website and guidance from Theresa Grant, acting director of the county’s Department of Family Services, to help him cope with the disease and provide help for his wife.
“It’s really about changing lifestyles to make life better for the person who has the disease,” said Baker, adding that he believes programs providing such support should be better publicized.
Baker said he felt he and his family were on their own after Beverly’s diagnosis and that he wished he knew earlier that resources like DFS could help him find a caregiver. A co-worker suggested he contact Grant, he said.
Susan Finn, president of the National Capital Area for the Alzheimer’s Association, said she believes the county would benefit from more support programs.
As of Aug. 20, there were four open support groups in Prince George’s, compared to 14 in Montgomery County and seven in Washington, D.C., according to the Alzheimer’s Association website. Finn said it is possible there are more Prince George’s support groups that are full and not accepting new members, but she would still like to see an expansion.
Since the spring, the association has been using a $25,000 county grant to travel countywide to distribute information. The organization is planning a September town hall meeting where families can learn about resources available in the county, Finn said.
Finn said her organization is working on developing a physicians outreach program, a database of primary care physicians, gerontologists and neurologists in Prince George’s and the surrounding area to create a network of “seamless support” for families.
“One of the key things is that families know that they’re not alone and sometimes how that can be helpful to families is we need more support groups in Prince George’s County,” Finn said.
Neither the Alzheimer’s Association nor the county’s health department had statistics regarding how many county residents are diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but as of 2010, there were 86,000 Maryland residents 65 years and older who were diagnosed with dementia, according to Alzheimer’s Association data. That number is expected to climb to 90,000 in 2020, the data states. As of June 30, 371 Prince George’s residents were enrolled in the MedicAlert Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program compared to 521 in Washington, D.C., and 722 in Montgomery County. The program uses identification bracelets that aid in the safe return of those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia who wander away, Finn said.
“Unfortunately, people think it’s part of the normal aging process,” Finn said. “It’s not. It’s a brain disease, and there’s nothing normal about that.”
County Health Officer Pamela Creekmur said the county health department offers services such as a free evaluation to determine whether a person can live independently and a medical care assistance program for people who lack insurance.
“The biggest issue for families in this situation is determining that caregiver role and how they’re going to use the resources of their family, their neighborhood, their benefits and agencies that provide care, and it’s happening to more and more families in our community,” Creekmur said.
Residents who want more information about resources for loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s can visit www.alz.org/nca, call the 24-hour help line at 1-800-272-3900 and contact the county’s Department of Family Services at 301-265-8401.