A state task force is holding a series of public meetings to gain input while developing a plan of action to combat Alzheimer's and related dementia for the next decade.
However, no amount of planning will matter if there aren't enough doctors to treat, care and find a cure for those afflicted with this awful disease.
One in every eight people over age 65 has Alzheimer's, said Nick Zullo, program director of the Alzheimer's Association of Utah. That means Utah has more than 32,000 people with the disease. When you factor in caregivers and family members, more than 130,000 people have been affected by Alzheimer's.
During a recent hearing in Clearfield, North Ogden resident Debbie Warren aired the frustrations many caregivers feel about a lack of medical support.
She said there are more plastic surgeons than neurologists in the phone book and suggested the state provide some incentives to get those pursuing a medical field of study to treat those with Alzheimer's.
She said the cost to diagnose and treat the disease can be staggering for caregivers.
According to Dr. John R. Corboy, associate professor of Neurology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the neurology shortage began about five years ago after new immigration restrictions were put in place following 9/11. He said foreign doctors used to fill about 30 percent of the neurological slots at American hospitals.
Pay also is a contributing factor to the shortage.
"I can spend an hour with a Medicare patient with dementia and get reimbursed $75, while a dermatologist can take off a wart and get $300 in 30 seconds," Corboy wrote in Neurology Today. "These factors influence young practitioners as they're deciding on a specialty."
States have routinely offered incentives, such as loans or even tuition payments, to medical school students who commit to entering a certain field, or practicing in a rural area for a period of time. The task force should look into similar options when putting together its plan.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's. In fact, there is no known cause. The number of cases will increase with time as Baby Boomers age.
Making sure we have adequate medical care to deal with this growing problem is of the utmost importance.