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O’Connor dementia announcement underscores importance of a coordinated state response, caregiver support Bookmark

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Earlier this week, Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, made the courageous public announcement that she has been living with dementia. In a statement, O’Connor said, “While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life.” Ohio and the nation certainly benefitted from her more than two decades in the nation’s most important courtroom, and our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family during this difficult time, as is our appreciation for her long and accomplished career.

There are many types of dementia; Alzheimer’s disease, which O’Connor likely has, is perhaps the best-known condition that causes dementia, affecting more than 220,000 Ohioans. The total number of people living with all types of dementia is unknown, as diagnosis can be difficult. Leading health organizations around the world are working to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and other dementias. As important as finding a cure is, O’Connor’s announcement reminds us that we must not ignore that there are hundreds of thousands of Ohioans who are focused on the day-to-day challenges of living with or caring for someone with dementia. Caregivers in the workforce and in the home are often underprepared for the daily challenges they will face.

People living with dementia, and their caregivers, are significant members of our communities who deserve to be included and accepted, even as their needs and abilities change. For this reason, the Ohio Department of Aging included dementia throughout Ohio’s State Plan on Aging 2019-2022, which was approved by the U.S. Administration for Community Living last month.

Our State Plan infuses brain health and cognitive health into overall population health so that we can reduce the stigma of brain failure by educating and empowering Ohioans to learn more about their brains, how their brains play a crucial role in the efficiencies of their bodies, and how to have conversations with healthcare providers when our brains may not perform optimally.

Incorporating dementia into the State Plan on Aging, rather than having a separate state dementia plan, ensures that goals related to dementia are managed and have the same strategic oversight as other important and interrelated goals, such as caregiver support, access to information, aging in place and even civic engagement. By building and managing these goals and strategies together, we can empower those living with dementia and their caregivers to maintain a high quality of life.

Over the next four years, the Ohio Department of Aging will provide communities with the tools to engage, empower and support people living with dementia and their caregivers. We are excited to build on existing partnerships and forge new trails so that we can help Ohioans with dementia live with dignity and respect, and support families and informal caregivers, who are the backbone of Ohio’s long-term care system.

Learn about caregiver support and resources availble through Ohio's aging network...

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