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A resolution that would guide Utah through a staggering increase in the number of state residents with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias likely will be passed in the upcoming legislative session, the bill's sponsor says.

Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Salt Lake City, said the main purpose of SJR1, the Alzheimer's State Plan Joint Resolution, is to educate the public about the monetary and social costs of the degenerative brain disease.

On Jan. 25, advocates, caregivers, family members and supporters will gather in the Capitol Rotunda for what the Utah chapter of the Alzheimer's Association is calling an Advocacy Day, where individuals and families affected by dementia may speak out about their own experiences with the disease.

Bonnie Shepherd, a Salt Lake City resident who cared for her husband, Ned, said she hopes the resolution and the event help eliminate the stigma of dementia, which she believes is possible as more people become familiar with the disease and recognize the humanity of its sufferers.

Holladay resident Bill Bruno, whose father, A. Paul Bruno, a retired U.S. Air Force general and former top brass at Hill Air Force base, has Alzheimer's, also hopes public awareness can alleviate public aversion to people with dementia.

Utah is projected to have the nation's fastest-growing rate of dementia diagnoses by 2025, according to the Utah 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.

A 20-member task force that met this summer to plan for the eventual onslaught of Alzheimer's disease made recommendations that have been included in SJR1, including public education, health care and dignity for those with dementia and those at risk, more support to family caregivers, improvements in care and more research.

Because the legislative interim committee that heard the findings didn't have an actual bill to consider, SJR1 will have to get committee approval during the session.

The task force work was authorized under a bill that Morgan sponsored last year.

The Alzheimer's Association says that unless Utah can provide better support in homes and communities for those with the disease and their caregivers, the magnitude of the illness will cripple public resources. Norman Foster, director of the University of Utah's Center for Alzheimer's Care, Imaging and Research, has said the cost of Alzheimer's disease care threatens to bankrupt the state.

SJR1 outlines a five-year plan that encourages state agencies, the private sector, the media and corporate and philanthropic organizations to make Alzheimer's disease and related dementias a top priority and to find ways to integrate their efforts. Morgan said she also is working on a bill that would put some of that plan into statute. "That's the piece we've got to build support for," she said. —

Advocacy Day for Alzheimer's and related dementias

The Utah chapter of the Alzheimer's Association will hold an advocacy event in the Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 25 while the Legislature is in session. Individuals and families affected by dementia are invited to speak out on how the state should counter the disease, which threatens to cripple resources. Lawmakers will consider a bill, SJR1, that would establish a five-year state plan to coordinate efforts of state agencies, the private sector, the media, corporate and philanthropic organizations to make Alzheimer's disease and related dementias a top priority.

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