San Francisco city officials and local experts on dementia care announced today the start of a 10-year plan to address the looming crisis of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in the region.

The city’s Department of Aging and Adult Services is heading a strategy to increase public awareness and integrate services and support for a growing number of people suffering from some type of dementia, or diminished cognitive function.

In the Bay Area, one out of every two people who are at least 85 years old suffer from some type of dementia. In San Francisco, 18 percent of the city’s residents are over 60 years old, and that number is expected to rise to 24 percent in only three years.

Anne Hinton, executive director of the Department of Aging and Adult Services, said the growing crisis of dementia was on par with the previous AIDS crisis, in which there’s an “invisible population” suffering from these problems but who are receiving inadequate treatment or have been undiagnosed.

The plan includes reaching out to the public, through senior centers and primary care clinics, as well as first responders such as police officers and emergency medical technicians, to educate them on the best way to address the needs of people with dementia.

The plan would also include training and educating health care professionals on the best practices when it comes to medication prescriptions, diagnoses, end-of-life care, and other issues related to patients with dementia.

Dr. Adam Boxer, a neurologist who works on clinical trials for Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia at University of California at San Francisco’s Memory and Aging Center, said “this is a very exciting time for us.”

Boxer said “despite the fact that we have yet to develop a cure, there are many things we can do” to help prevent or minimize dementia, such as detecting it early, and promoting changes in diets or lifestyles.

The plan is expected to cost about $125,000 to implement and is being funded by a $20,000 grant from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, as well as a one-time grant from the state and through savings within the agency, Hinton said.

Agency officials hope the plan will improve the well-being of people with dementia and delay the need for more costly services, such as nursing homes.

Boxer said the plan is to make dementia patients similar to those suffering from diabetes, where “people live 20, 30, 40 years (after the diagnosis), and they live good and happy lives.”

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