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Arizona is fastest growing state for Alzheimer’s disease. It’s only going to get worse

Rylee Kirk | Arizona Republic

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Arizona saw the highest increase in dementia deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic and is the fastest growing state for Alzheimer’s cases, a new report says.

The state also has the highest average hours per week spent by caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.

The pandemic has only made things worse for those with Alzheimer’s and their families, said Terri Spitz, the executive director for the Desert Southwest chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“You want to keep everybody in a position where they’re safe but there’s also that piece where social isolation, depression, frankly, you know can be very difficult,” Spitz said. 

Why Arizona is fastest growing state for Alzheimer’s

Nationwide Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths increased by16% from 2019 to 2020. In Arizona about 1,500 more people died from dementia in 2020 than expected, with total deaths 30% higher than the usual annual average. Nevada had the second highest increase with 29.7% and Mississippi was third with a 29.1% increase. 

Spitz said that Arizona is seeing an increase in Alzheimer’s disease because more and more retirees are moving to the state. 

“Baby boomers are becoming seniors,” Spitz said. “This is such a critical issue. It’s a public health crisis in our state.”

In 2018, it was estimated 1.5 million Arizona residents were over the age of 60 and the group is “going to grow more rapidly than any other age cohort in the state,” according to the Arizona State Plan on Aging. 

It is estimated that by 2025 the number of people over the age of 65 with Alzheimer’s in the state of Arizona will increase by 33% to 200,000 people, the Alzheimer’s Association’s Arizona fact sheet said.

More education needed

Spitz said the state needs to work to educate people about the disease especially as many people don’t know or aren’t told about their diagnosis.

“It shouldn’t be the case of not giving someone a diagnosis, or not disclosing their diagnosis,” she said. 

If someone has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know it, they can’t plan for care, which only makes things more difficult later, Spitz said.

“I hear that so many times from people, ‘It was so hard to get a diagnosis. I had to go to three or four different places,'” she said. 

The organization’s Desert Southwest chapter provides educational presentations to help teach residents the signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as support groups for caretakers. Now the pandemic has shifted these events online. 

Spitz urges people to call the group’s 24-hour hotline at 800-272-3900 if they suspect that they or someone they know might be showing early signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“Call the helpline and talk with somebody and say ‘I’m really not sure what’s going on here and I don’t know how to have that conversation with my loved one,'” she said. 

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but Spitz is not discouraged. 

“We have a lot of hope and we will see the end of Alzheimer’s disease,” Spitz said. 

For more information about Alzheimer’s symptoms and support for people with the disease or caregivers visit www.alz.org.