Almost 12% of Allegheny County residents 65 and older are coping with Alzheimer’s disease and even more are affected by dementia.
To address the growing concern as the population ages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently awarded $1.85 million to the Allegheny County Health Department and its partners to aid residents impacted by these diseases.
The effort is supported by the federal Building Our Largest Dementia (BOLD) Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act. Partners in the local effort include the Allegheny County Department of Human Services’ Area Agency on Aging, Age-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh, Dementia-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh, Alzheimer’s Association Greater Pennsylvania Chapter, and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation’s Dementia Friendly Pennsylvania initiative.
Dr. Jim Weeden is the county’s healthy aging administrator and the local BOLD grant coordinator.
“As our country continues to age, we know Alzheimer’s tends to impact older adults,” he says. “So it’s really important to get out in front of this and address some of the health disparities and social determinants that can lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
The five-year BOLD grant establishes three Public Health Centers of Excellence, provides funds to support 43 public health departments, and increases data analysis and timely reporting of the diseases.
There is a particular focus on Black and low-income communities.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Black Americans are twice as likely as older white Americans to develop Alzheimer’s or other dementia. While higher rates of cardiovascular disease may play a role, it is still unclear what causes the higher incidences of the disease. And only 20% of Black Americans say they have no barriers to excellent Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Black Americans are also 35% less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia than white patients.
Weeden says the first two years of the grant will be focused on developing a strategic plan.
“We want to be strategic in how we use this funding,” he says. “We’ll work with our partners to create a strategic plan on how to address the social determinants and health disparities that relate to Alzheimer’s disease. Not only for the individual who’s been diagnosed but also for the caregivers, because they’re highly impacted by this.”
Over the next five years, the coalition will plan various activities ranging from community outreach events, professional educational events, and dissemination of information and resources.
Dementia-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh is one project organized by Age-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh. Age-Friendly’s projects are tied to their five working groups, which focus on transportation, housing, digital access, workforce and dementia.
Deanna Page is co-chair of Dementia-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh and a care coordinator at Dementia360.
“Some of us work for aging providers or dementia support providers,” she says. “Some of us are just community members or caregivers of someone living with dementia. We’re all volunteers that come together to improve awareness and engagement in our community about dementia.”
They also offer Dementia Friendly @ Work trainings to local businesses, community organizations and workplaces to designate them as “Committed to Being Dementia Friendly.”
“This helps people living with dementia and their care partners in our community recognize businesses that offer a dementia-friendly environment and approach to those they serve,” Page says. “We’ve done a few of these trainings recently with local churches, gyms, banks, etc.”
The average cost of a home health aid for dementia was $27 per hour in 2021. Page says that many people cannot afford care or do not qualify for financial support so the grant will help them access the resources they need to age gracefully.
“This grant will enable us to really hear from the community about what areas they are still needing assistance with,” Page adds. “Where are the gaps? We can really fill those holes to help support people living with dementia. “
The health department specifies that this initiative fits within the county’s Plan for a Healthier Allegheny, which ties into the goal of reducing disparities that impact life expectancy and disparities connected to chronic disease.
“Our goal is to help lower the rates of people who are diagnosed,” Weeden adds. “This will help the caregivers as well. There’s a lot of stress on the caregivers caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.”