The Twilight Zone

Report calls for action to stem Alzheimer’s deluge

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2011 - 9:13 AM

Rod Tietz's parents Joann and Rollie at their New Prague home.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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The number of Minnesotans with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia will swell from 88,000 now to 198,000 in the next 30 years, with the prospect that state coffers, families and employers could be overwhelmed by the stress and costs of care, according to a report that will be delivered to the Legislature on Thursday.

Without action, the report concludes, “the burden will be heaviest on public funding as the number of individuals with Alzheimer’s increase and their family caregivers are stretched beyond their capacity and exhaust their resources.”

Fear of the disease and ignorance about treating symptoms have kept many Minnesotans from getting help until caregivers are exhausted and in chaos, advocates say.

The result, they say, is a heavy drain on personal and state finances as patients are placed sooner than necessary in nursing homes and families are battered by the unrelenting stress of caregiving.

“Minnesota is in crisis now — with huge costs and stresses to families, employers and government — and it will get worse as the population ages,” said Mary Birchard, executive director of the state Alzheimer’s Association, which helped lead the group that developed the report.

Cost savings could be significant, the report says — an attractive prospect, even if not implemented this session, as the state wrestles with a projected $6.2 billion deficit.

With average annual medical costs for an Alzheimer’s patient running about $33,000 — triple that of similar people without dementia — cutting expenses even by $5,000 per patient could save $44 million a year.

Communities and families must act to ensure better care and better use of public and private resources, the report says.

In a small way, that’s exactly what happened early this week in New Prague with the family of 77-year-old Rollie Tietz .

To cope with the retired businessman’s periodic wandering — a frightening behavior that affects 60 percent of Alzheimer’s patients— Tietz’s family enlisted the help of the police department and two sheriffs’ offices to test a device to track him the next time he takes a walk into the snowy night wearing slippers.

For months, Rod Tietz has been worried about his dad, who lives 3 miles outside New Prague. He checked out several devices that could track his dad should he go missing. He chose one sold by EmFinders  of Frisco , Texas, using cell phone technology.

“You read about these cases where somebody with Alzheimer’s is found dead and you just don’t want that to be your dad,” Rod Tietz said.

On Monday, he gathered a crowd at the New Prague police department. With his dad at home wearing a device like a wrist watch, Tietz asked his mom to call 911 to report the test, then call the company’s 800 number.

Within 10 minutes, the device sent a 911 call that gave authorities his dad’s location on a map, with latitude and longitude coordinates — within 100 yards of the house. A second test found a patrolman wearing a similar device.

“This is pretty good,” said Police Chief Mark Vosjepka . “We’ve got a better chance of finding somebody alive, and it cuts way down on our manpower needs.”

Rollie’s wife, Joanie Tietz, 72, also expressed relief.

“I worked 27 years as an EMT with the ambulance crew and I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff,’’ she said. “But this Alzheimer’s, it can just grind you down. I was starting to think, well, how much longer can we go on?”

First, early detection

  • about this series

  • The Twilight Zone series by Star Tribune reporters explores the ways, good and bad, that an aging population will change Minnesota.
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  • Rod Tietz visited with his father Rollie Tietz at their home.

  • Rod Tietz's mother Joann Tietz held her husband wearing the EM Finder.


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