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A task force charged with planning for the eventual onslaught of Alzheimer's disease in Utah has recommended legislation for the next five years to deal with the monetary and social costs of treating dementia.

The legislative Health and Human Services Interim Committee heard the report Wednesday, the culmination of work done by the 20-member task force set up under a bill passed this year.

Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, who sponsored SB48, told the committee she wasn't sure how the task force members might continue their work after its Nov. 30 sunset. The first piece of legislation would be a resolution supporting the group's findings, she said.

Utah is projected to have the nation's fastest-growing rate of dementia diagnoses by 2025, according to the state chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Eighty diseases cause dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer's, an incurable brain disease that causes memory loss and eventually death.

The task force recommendations include making the public more aware of Alzheimer's, providing health care and dignity for those with dementia and those at risk, giving more support to family caregivers, improving dementia care capacity and competence in primary-care health practices and expanding research to find more treatments.

Norman Foster, a task force member, physician and director of the U.'s Center for Alzheimer's Care, Imaging and Research, told lawmakers that current spending on dementia care is wasteful because it forces families to use emergency rooms and institutions to get treatment when the best option is home care.

Committee member Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, struggled to hold back tears when he disclosed his mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's three weeks ago. "The first experience of looking into my mother's eyes and her not recognizing me, very difficult," he said. His family thought they'd be able to handle the situation, he said, but have had difficulty finding proper health resources.

"It is indeed challenging," he said. —

Commission on Aging gets five more years

The Utah Commission on Aging has been reauthorized to exist another five years, but without state funding. Its previous authorization would have ended in July 2012. The legislative Health and Human Services Interim Committee on Wednesday agreed the commission, housed at the University of Utah Center on Aging, could continue to use its status to secure grant money for its projects. Commission Executive Director Maureen Henry said current grants are going toward improving the state's long-term care options and to develop and disseminate information on a law allowing Utahns to work with their doctors to create directions for the care they desire in life-threatening situations. The document is called a Physician's Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or POLST. The Legislature and then-Gov. Jon Huntsman's office created the commission in 2005. Since then, its funding steadily dropped; for the past two years it has had no funding. —

Alzheimer's threat

An Alzheimer's Association report shows that 5.4 million Americans live with the incurable brain disease, including more than 32,000 in Utah.

The report says there are more than 132,000 Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers in the Beehive State, who in 2010 provided more than 151 million hours of unpaid care, valued at $1.8 billion.

By 2050, nearly 16 million Americans are projected to have Alzheimer's. The report says 10 million baby boomers will either die with — or from — the disease, which is projected to cost the nation $20 trillion.

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