Alzheimer's Disease: A Profile of South Dakota's Efforts to Address it

 Executive Director, South Dakota Alzheimer's Association

Executive Director, South Dakota Alzheimer's Association

Right now, at least 17,000 South Dakotans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. It is the 5th leading cause of death in our state. South Dakota also has the 3rd highest Alzheimer’s death rate in America. The numbers are staggering, and yet South Dakota remains one of just a handful of states that does not have a State Plan on Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

A state plan acts as a roadmap of sorts – a comprehensive guide for our state to ensure resources, training and access to care are available for all who are impacted by this disease. State plans are as varied as the states that have them. To determine what South Dakota’s state plan should look like, a grassroots effort consisting of policymakers, professional and family caregivers, legal and financial experts, and health care administrators formed the South Dakota Alzheimer’s/Dementia State Plan Work Group. The group convened in April of 2017, and last summer completed a statewide needs assessment to determine what South Dakotans would most like to see in a state plan. More than 1,000 people completed surveys in 57 South Dakota counties. More than 100 people attended focus groups across the state. Their collective experience can be summed up in two key takeaways: 1.) Services and resources are inadequate or missing throughout the state. 2.) Where resources and services exist, they are constrained by high costs, insufficient workforce numbers, a lack of know-how, and debilitating stigma.

The needs assessment report also demonstrates that public health has a critical role to play in promoting the cognitive functioning of adults and addressing soaring costs to healthcare, social, and economic systems. As part of the state Alzheimer's plan response, public health can apply its broad community-based approach to educate South Dakotans about brain health, advance early detection and diagnosis, improve safety and quality of care for people living with dementia, and assure caregivers get needed support. We also need surveillance data from the South Dakota Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to help track our progress in improving outcomes.

The findings from the needs assessment will now serve as the backbone of the state plan. The work group will be writing the plan throughout 2018, and will present it to the South Dakota Legislature in the 2019 session. While a way to treat or cure Alzheimer’s and related dementias might still be years away, a state plan can help ensure there are services in place to help those who are dealing with this condition right now. That’s also the focus of the Alzheimer’s Association South Dakota. Our trained staff provide care consultations, information and referrals, support groups, and a 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900). To access these services visit alz.org/sd or call 605.339.4543.