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State could save millions with new caregiver support program

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Minnesota could save almost $1 billion over the next decade if the state adopted a new dementia caregiver support model, according to a study published Monday in the journal Health Affairs.

The study authors say adopting the New York University Caregiver Intervention program across Minnesota from 2010 to 2025 would help more dementia patients remain at home longer.

And, according to the study, around 19 percent fewer people with dementia would die in institutions.

Researchers say delaying the point at which dementia patients start living in nursing homes by only about a year and a half could accrue huge cost savings in a state like Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports.

According to its website, the New York University Caregiver Intervention program offers special services to caregivers, including six sessions of in-person counseling, encouragement to participate in a weekly support group, and telephone counseling.

The study authors suggest that with widespread adoption, substantial caregiver participation, and reasonable program costs, programs like this may provide an immediate path to moderating alarming and growing dementia-related expenditures states are facing.

Statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association show the number of Minnesotans over age 65 with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to jump to 120,000 by 2025, from 88,000 today.

The increase is predicted to place huge financial strains on the health care system, especially the taxpayer-supported programs Medicaid and Medicare, which pay for much of their care.

While the benefits of caregiver support programs have been clear for decades, this study was the first to specify the possible cost savings, the Star Tribune reports.

But some experts have been critical of the study, which assumes that every caregiver in Minnesota would participate in the new model of care, and did not include any costs of implementing or advertising the program.

Joseph Gaugler, a University of Minnesota nursing professor who studies long-term care but wasn’t involved in the study, told the Star Tribune the model also didn’t take into account that the program may not work for every caregiver.

“Caregivers are very diverse individuals,” he said. “They are caring for people with memory loss in different degrees; they may have different preferences for resources they might want to utilize.”

He says the program is a strong model, but isn’t “one size fits all.”

Steven Foldes, a study co-author and an adjunct epidemiology and community health professor at the U of M, told the Star Tribune the researchers are addressing these limitations in the next phase of their modeling, which they plan to release later this month.

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