Alzheimer’s issues increasing

While the state works on a comprehensive plan to address the growing number of Alzheimer’s and related dementia cases, local agencies and caregivers said they’re doing their best to address the current situation.

“I worry about her every day,” says Diana DiPietro of Altoona whose 82-year-old mother has been diagnosed with dementia, a condition that typically involves short term memory loss and difficulty with everyday tasks. “In general, my mother is otherwise very healthy.”

DiPietro, who works for an insurance company, said she provides some of her mother’s care so her mother can remain in her own home in Altoona. Hired caregivers and neighbors help too.

“If you can, you really do want to keep your loved one in their own home,” DiPietro said. “I think she’s really more comfortable there.”

Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Corbett issued an order creating the Pennsylvania Alzheimer’s Disease Planning Committee and named Secretary of Aging Brian Duke as chairman. The committee is expected, by February 2014, to come up with a state plan addressing the Alzheimer’s disease crisis in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania, with the fourth-largest older adult population in the nation, has an estimated 280,000 residents living with Alzheimer’s disease, the state Department of Aging reports. If counting related dementias, the agency indicates that number increases to 400,000.

The 2010 Census reported 4,762 Blair County residents with Alzheimer’s, up from 4,061 identified in the 2000 census.

“Locally, we’re glad the state is taking a look into this issue,” said Endicott L. Reindl, community services representative for Home Instead Senior Care, a Duncansville-area franchise office that arranges caregiver services. “It’s a disease that’s going to steadily grow. Even in the next five to 10 years, those numbers are going to increase and it’s going to overwhelm the medical resources and facilities.”

Meanwhile, Home Instead is among the agencies and organizations providing access to workshops and training programs for those taking care of anyone with Alzheimer’s and related dementia conditions. One is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday at the agency’s Duncansville office and another is scheduled from 6 to 8:30 p.m Oct. 15 at the JC Blair Memorial Hospital. Both are free.

In addition, Home Instead is introducing, starting today, a mobile application for smartphones, at, called the Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias Daily Companion. It’s designed to help caregivers and family members find solutions when they have to act quickly to a difficult or stressful situation.

“Many family caregivers wake up every day with anxiety and fear because they don’t know how a loved one with Alzheimer’s will act or react,” said Theresa Zurilla, who owns the Duncansville area Home Instead franchise that serves Blair and Cambria counties. “We want to replace their fears with a sense of confidence that they are equipped to handle any situation.”

In addition, the National Alzheimer’s Association and the National Insitute of Aging, along with their state and regional offices, have a wealth of resources, but those addressing the state’s Alzheimer’s Disease Planning Committee say more is needed.

At the organization’s July meeting, held in Harrisburg, the committee heard requests for more geriatric physicians, improvement in detection and diagnosis of the disease, financial help to cover the cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s, more educational and training programs plus the desire for new medications.

Since July, the committee has met in State College, Scranton and Philadelphia. Another meeting is scheduled this morning in Clarion and the committee’s last scheduled meeting is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday at the University of Pittsburgh.

The committee also encourages the submission of written comments or recommendations, via email to or by mail to: PA Alzheimer’s State Plan, 555 Walnut St., 5th Floor, Harrisburg, Pa., 17101.

Huntingdon County resident Robert K. Wargo, who chairs the Pa. Council on Aging Central Regional Council, is encouraging area residents to offer their personal stories and experiences to the committee working on the state plan. The Petersburg man said he has heard some sad stories from family members who try to care for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s. Financial issues are common, he said, as well as stress.

“All too often, there’s no rest for those caregivers,” Wargo said, “and there’s nobody else in their family to help them.”