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Need for services increasing dramatically across nation

Statistics show rising numbers of individuals living with Alzheimer's disease, pointing to the need for effective services for older adults and their families. According to the Alzheimer's Association, approximately 5.4 million individuals, or one out of every eight adults over age 65 in the United States, had Alzheimer's disease in 2011.

As the proportion of adults over age 65 continues to increase, the number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease is expected to grow substantially in coming years. Although New York State ranks low on the list in terms of expected increase in Alzheimer's prevalence through 2025, many states will see a 25 percent to 50 percent increase. Northwestern states, as well as Colorado, Utah and Nevada, are expected to face an 81.1 percent to 127 percent increase.

Addressing changing trends will require increased service availability for individuals and families dealing with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

Older Americans are often assisted by family members, friends and neighbors in an effort to meet their daily needs and accomplish tasks related to personal care. As the population of Americans over age 65 continues to increase and the mean number of offspring continues to decrease, building stable systems of support for caregivers and family members of older Americans becomes increasingly relevant.

Mental and behavioral health services are a key component of the support system necessary to address growing needs of individuals living with Alzheimer's disease, their caregivers and their families. Services of this nature may include social work and psychological services to address growing mental health concerns and detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Counseling, education and respite services for caregivers are essential.

Mental and behavioral health services that are person-centered utilize a person-first approach, focusing on strengths, experiences and needs of the individual. Similarly, recent research points to the effectiveness of strength-based and recovery-oriented forms of therapy and counseling in addressing psychosocial needs of older adults living with dementia. Support of mental and behavioral health organizations and agencies endorsing a person-centered approach to gerontological service provision is key to building a supportive, holistic and individualized system of care for older Americans.

Furthermore, community endorsement of localized services to address these changing needs helps to build a system of support that is close to home for the aging. Through continued support of person-centered community-based services, the Western New York community can help itself to age healthily and successfully.?

Andrew Wilton is a community social worker and social researcher.