Under a $2 billion plan begun in 2007, France is building new memory clinics for patients, training doctors and nurses and providing programs to support families affected by Alzheimer’s. The hope is to understand and address the broader problems that the disease causes. “Alzheimer’s is much more than a disease, it’s a whole societal problem. If you tackle it only through the medical prism, you will miss a number of dimensions of the topic,” said Florence Lustman, inspector general of finances and director of the national plan.

A key part of the plan is to provide “respite care” for family members caring for an Alzheimer’s patient.  Adult day care and home-based services that relieve family members have been launched throughout the country.  Regional centers have also been established allowing families to access services such as residential care facilities and memory specialists.  Supporting families is critical to keeping dementia patients at home, and out of hospitals where the cost of caring for them is much higher.

According to the U.S.-based Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 5.4 million people have Alzheimer’s in the U.S. and by 2050 the number may be at 13 million people.  The U.S. has pledged to increase federal funding for Alzheimer’s research to $560 million. France has been a leader in broadly viewing the societal needs of the disease, pledging to support patients as well as caregivers while encouraging collaboration among social services.  Still, France faces large challenges in dealing with the disease. Educating overtaxed local doctors about Alzheimer’s is one task. “The average French general practitioner has seven Alzheimer’s patients but 300 patients with diabetes.  The GP’s see the problem but don’t imagine the solution,” said Dr. Benoit Lavallart with the national Alzheimer Plan.  However, positive change is occurring. Hospital staff and social workers are communicating sooner, and coordinating efforts to quickly move patients to less-intensive care and into more appropropriate areas is more common. Support groups for families are gaining popularity.  Cecile Coret a regional coordinator said, “the goal is that everyone has a little bit of responsibility.”       WSJ.com   10/22/12


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