Alzheimer’s advisory council wants state to provide $300,000 for awareness campaign addressing brain health, dementia

In this Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 photo, Dr. Russell Dohner wears a stethoscope around his neck as he tends to patients in his office in Rushville, Ill. (AP/Jeff Roberson)
In this Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 photo, Dr. Russell Dohner wears a stethoscope around his neck as he tends to patients in his office in Rushville, Ill. (AP/Jeff Roberson)

The Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia Advisory Council wants state lawmakers to provide $300,000 in state funding for a public awareness campaign to educate providers and consumers on brain health, early detection and diagnosis, and risk mitigation of dementia.

The council also seeks a funding increase for the state's two-year-old Dementia Caregiving Respite Grant Program from $200,000 to $400,000 a year, and for the state to establish Medicaid coverage for care planning and cognitive screening of dementia.

Council member David Cook, director of governmental affairs and public policy for the Arkansas chapter of Alzheimer's Association, presented the requests Tuesday on behalf of the council to the House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committees.

"The immediate needs that we see that we need to address coming forward as we look at the [2024] fiscal session [include] increased public health messaging about the importance of risk reduction, some of the warning signs that may not be a common sign of normal aging, early detection, diagnosis," he said.

"Especially now that we have treatments that are viable for people that are in early stage, early detection and diagnosis is essential," Cook said.

He said the council will continue to monitor public and private payers to ensure there is coverage for U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments in the early stage of Alzheimer's as well as to improve access and coverage of cognitive screening, diagnostics and care planning services, and to ensure there is coordination of these services and resources.

Cook said the council wants to increase access to cognitive assessments and care planning services for the state's Medicaid population, and asks that the state's Medicaid program establish "a reimbursement rate for a planning code that already exists [from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] and this planning code reimburses providers for cognitive screenings, but also care planning services.

"As Medicaid establishes this reimbursement rate, it is important to note that this would only be for individuals who are not dual eligible, so if they are covered by Medicare that benefit is picked up by Medicare," he said. "But it is for those who are under the age 65 covered by Medicaid, so they can have access to cognitive screening and care planning services."

Cook said the state Department of Human Services established the Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregiver Respite Grant Program with a $200,000 federal block grant two years ago, and the program provides dementia caregivers with a $500 grant to secure respite services.

Caregivers of someone with a confirmed diagnosis of dementia are eligible for the grant and they must hire someone outside of the home to provide that care, he said. Caregivers are eligible for two grants during a year, but must wait six months between award periods, he said.

Cook said the grant program served 400 families in its first year, and it has served 266 families so far in its second year, leaving about $67,000 in remaining funds.

"We have shown over the the last two years that the need is great," he said. "We are also prioritizing rural communities, making sure that money gets out to the rural communities to the families that desperately need it.

"We are asking that the state match the federal block grant and increase the funding level from $200,000 to $400,000 so that we continue to strengthen this program and ensure that people have access to the respite services that they desperately need," Cook said.

Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, and Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, thanked Cook for his efforts.

Chesterfield said "this is so needed because it has such a devastating effect not only on the individual when they lose themselves because it is losing yourself, not being able to cope, having been one who has been fully able to do so."

Cook said more than 58,000 Arkansans who are older than 65 are living with Alzheimer's and their ranks are expected to increase by about 16 % to over 67,000 by 2025.

In addition, there are multiple other forms of dementia and cases of younger onset of Alzheimer's, he noted.

Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death in Arkansas, Cook said.

Act 391 of 2021 created the 20-member Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia Advisory Council. State Sen. Clint Penzo, R-Springdale, and state Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, are the council's co-chairs, Cook said.

He said the Legislature earlier this year enacted Act 102 to strengthen the advisory council by adding members from the Arkansas Home-based Services Association and the Arkansas Residential Assisted Living Association.

Earlier this year, the Legislature also enacted Act 682 that establishes the position of dementia services coordinator within the state Department of Human Services, Cook said.

"We do know that position is posted and the agency is actively working to fill that," he said. "But that establishes a dedicated position within DHS to kind of look at our response, our services, the aging services that we have available, [and] how do we strengthen those support services for individuals who are navigating the challenges of dementia."

Arkansas will join other states that have similar positions and have seen a cost savings in making sure there is a coordinated state government response to Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, Cook said.

Afterward, Department of Human Services spokesman Gavin Lesnick said the dementia services coordinator post is scheduled to remain open for applications through Friday. The salary range for the post is $45,010 to $65,265 a year.

The dementia services coordinator will lead the department's efforts to improve dementia care and awareness across the state by coordinating the dementia services available to Arkansas communities, he said.

The dementia services coordinator will enhance support for dementia caregivers and evaluate data to help improve outcomes through service delivery, Lesnick said, and will serve as a liaison with other state agencies and provider organizations to coordinate and evaluate services, support training initiatives, and improve quality of care in home and community-based settings. The position also will evaluate grant opportunities that may support efforts to improve services to persons affected with dementia and their families, he said.

Cook told lawmakers Arkansas became one of the first states to establish dementia training standards for professional home care providers.

Act 70 of 2023 requires four hours of dementia training for direct care staff of home healthcare providers.

Act 202 of 2023 requires a minimum of two hours of dementia training for law enforcement and other first responders, Cook said.

Act 335 of 2023 requires four hours of dementia training for direct care staff in assisted living facilities and two hours of annual continuing education for direct care staff in assisted living facilities, he said.