Bill would create statewide dementia awareness program in Alaska

Members of Alaska’s Senate Health and Social Services Committee discussed a bill that aims to increase dementia awareness Tuesday.

 

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Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage) is the lead sponsor on Senate Bill 216, which would create a statewide dementia awareness program in the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and help the state qualify for outreach grants.

“This legislation is very important to me,” Costello said. “It’s hard to find someone in the state who hasn’t been affected by Alzheimer’s. All of us in this body are aware of dementia and the impact it has on Alaskans. I’m hoping we can fully vet this bill and hear about how important it is from members of the community.”

Pamela Kelley, the Executive Director of Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska, testified on behalf of the bill. She said people often seek assistance at the nonprofit after their loved ones have developed memory problems. But by then, it’s too late for preventative measures, she said.

“These are, of course, progressive and fatal conditions,” Kelley said. “I’m certain we should be building greater awareness of dementia, before symptoms begin to appear.”

Kelley said there are an estimated 12,500 Alaskans who are experiencing dementia. That number will increase to 23,000 in 2030, she said. 

“Many of us have the experience of knowing someone close to us who has lived with, and perhaps died, from dementia,” Kelley said. “I don’t want to leave the community with the impression there’s no public awareness work being done in Alaska. But it’s piecemeal.”

The bill would help Alaska create a population level campaign, Kelley said. Related educational materials would detail the value of early detection, distribute messages in a variety of languages designed to reach those who are at greater risk, and contribute to the development of data.

Nona Safra, a board member for the Alaska Commission on Aging, also testified in favor of the bill.

“We’re working on the next five-year plan for senior services,” Safra said. “The commission works with partners to explore what is working, and what isn’t so we can best understand the impact dementia has on Alaskans. Our workforce and budget will be impacted with the sheer number of Alaskans who will be diagnosed with dementia in the next decade. The passage of SB 216 gives Alaskans a safety net before crisis intervention is necessary.”

Committee members set an amendment deadline of April 18 for the bill.