EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- Dementia is being called a public health emergency, as more than 2,000 people in Eau Claire County are living with the disease and more than 115,000 statewide. However, that number is only expected to increase as our aging population continues to grow.
That's why the state introduced Dementia Care Specialists. A person dedicated to working with people living with dementia to remain independent, safe and active in their community for as long as possible.
But the program is set to expire at the end of the year and funding for it ends with a question mark, since it's not included in Governor Walker's 2017-19 state budget.
“One in nine people over 65 will develop Alzheimer’s and one in three people 86 and older will,” explained Lisa Wells, the Dementia Care Specialist for the Eau Claire County Aging and Disability Resource Center. “With our aging pop growing, there’s such a need for services for people living with dementia.”
The Dementia Care Specialist program was started in 2014 in Wisconsin and has assisted approximately 54 percent of the state's senior population.
“I think the biggest difference is the number of people we've been able to help,” Wells said. “My focus is nothing but memory loss and people living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. So that's what I do all day long.”
There are currently 19 Dementia Care Specialists in the state, but the program can't continue without funding.
Wells says having positions like a Dementia Care Specialist allow for people who are diagnosed with dementia to live in their home longer versus moving to a publicly funded facility which saves an average taxpayer about $161 a day, which is about $60,000 annually.
ADRC is currently planning to send letters of support for Dementia Care Specialists to the governor’s office.
Statewide, the program is asking for about $800,000 annually to continue existing operations and more than $2.5 million to continue and grow the program.
We reached out to Governor Walker's office to ask about why the funding for this position is being cut, but have not heard back.
Wells wants to reassure people, if the funding is not a part of the state's budget, they will continue doing whatever it takes to provide services and programs in our community.