State unveils Alzheimer's strategy

By Amy Cherry 2:39pm, February 17, 2014 - Updated 3:32pm, February 17, 2014
VIDEO: Patricia Mulrooney talks about the emotional burden of being a caregiver for her mother who has Alzheimer's while DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf talks about a new state plan to combat the degenerative disease.
Alzheimer's afflicted 14,000 Delawareans in 2010, and now the state is out with a new comprehensive state strategy to deal with the degenerative disease.

WDEL's Amy Cherry reports.

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Patricia Mulrooney of Wilmington has been a caretaker for the past year for her mom, Ethel Cherrix, who will turn 90 in April.

To say it's been difficult for her would be an understatement.

"It was very heartbreaking, when she didn't recognize me as her daughter," said Mulrooney as she choked back tears.

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But Mulrooney says she picked herself up and dusted herself off to provide her mother with the best care she could, the same way her mother took care of her.

Delaware Health and Social Services (DHSS) Secretary Rita Landgraf has nightmares about if people like Mulrooney didn't exist.

"If those caregivers would just one day decide to go on strike, I don't know what we would do," said Landgraf.

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Her fears are real as Delaware grapples with a rapidly aging population. One in nine Delawareans over the age of 65 has Alzheimer's. The state's elderly population will double over the next few decades. By 2030, Delaware will have the ninth-highest percentage of people over age 65.

Those statistics don't give a face to the heartbreaking diagnosis of Alzheimer's, but Patricia's story as a caretaker does.

"My mother's journey changes constantly, and I know through the support of these outreach programs, we as a family, can always be there for her," she said.

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Delaware is confronting the problem of Alzheimer's head-on. One piece of a comprehensive state strategy, unveiled at Christiana Care's Swank Memory Care Center, includes strengthening support for caretakers through an online toolkit. Caregivers will also be encouraged to participate in state educational programs that will be tailored to cultural needs.

"Support groups are critical not only for practical information, but also for the reassurance that you are not caring for someone with the disease in isolation," Landgraf said.

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The five-part plan also calls for increased awareness and more accessibility to long-term care services.

"We need to streamline supportive home and community-based services, including standard and emergency respite and use of telehealth and telemedicine," Landgraf said.

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The state's strategy also calls for a public-private, non-profit and academic partnership that supports the collection and analysis of data and research into developing an Alzheimer's cure.

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