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Tennessee’s new dementia advisory council seeks public input

By Nadia Ramlagan, Tennessee Public News Service

Earlier this year, the Tennessee General Assembly unanimously passed legislation creating the first Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Advisory Council, and the council now wants input from residents to help identify what resources are needed most. 

Rachel Blackhurst, director of public policy and advocacy for the Tennessee chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, says around a half-million people in the state are either living with Alzheimer’s or caring for someone with the disease.

“Do they need more help with direct care services, do they see an issue with long-term care or doctors needing more trainings on how to deal with an Alzheimer’s patient?” she raises. “We want to make sure we’re getting the input of the people who are dealing with it in the state.”

The Alzheimer’s Advisory Council was formed as a response to the state’s high rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

Tennessee has the fourth highest death rate from Alzheimer’s disease in the nation.

There is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and Blackhurst points outs the burden is falling heaviest on caregivers.

“There’s a lot of data out there that Alzheimer’s is one of the most feared diseases, so if you’ve yet to experience Alzheimer’s in a personal way, you know, caring for a family member, what are you worried about when you think about the future?” she states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects that the number of people living with Alzheimer’s in the U.S. will triple to nearly 14 million by 2060. 

Blackhurst says more states are viewing dementia as a public health issue.

“On a national level, I would say the major trend would be toward working with public health,” she states.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there’s been a more than 200% increase in Alzheimer’s-related deaths in Tennessee since 2000. 

The state’s Medicaid program, TennCare, estimates that this year the cost of taking care of people with Alzheimer’s was more than $1 billion.