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Alzheimer's Association plans Orangeburg County study

Times & Democrat - 11/29/2023

Nov. 29—The Alzheimer's Association of South Carolina will conduct a community and health care needs assessment in Orangeburg County in the coming year, association Director of Government Affairs Taylor Wilson said.

"We need to make sure we are meeting the needs of our rural population as well as the population right here in town," Wilson said.

Wilson addressed the Orangeburg County Legislative Delegation earlier this month.

A community and health care needs assessment will help shed light on residents' access to primary care providers and nurses who have experience in dealing with Alzheimer's, she said.

The assessment will look at questions such as how individuals with the disease are being treated in the county and what medical triage procedures are in place to ensure those with the disease are being treated properly.

She said there is currently one neurologist in the county and the wait list is 10 months to 12 months long.

Senior centers and churches also need to be engaged to see what services they provide to those with Alzheimer's or dementia, she said.

Wilson said the Alzheimer's Association is applying for about $20,000 in grants to conduct the assessment. The association hopes to conduct the assessment over the next 10 months.

"What we need from the delegation is your trusted voice to get people to attend," Wilson said. "We want you to help them find out where the gaps are, where the weaknesses are and where we have strengths."

Wilson noted a study ranked Orangeburg County eighth-highest in the U.S. in Alzheimer's prevalence at 15.2 percent of those 65 and older. The study looked at 3,142 counties with a population of 10,000 or more.

"We didn't realize how bad the prevalence was in Orangeburg because we never had any other counties outside of South Carolina to compare it to. Now we do," Wilson said. "The prevalence is staggering."

According to the state's Alzheimer's Disease Registry, 2,117 individuals in Orangeburg County were living with Alzheimer's disease or dementia as of the latest 2017 data. New data is expected to be released this coming December.

The county has seen a 132 percent increase in documented cases since 2000.

According to the 2023 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, older Black Americans are twice as likely to have Alzheimer's or dementia as older whites and older Hispanics are about 1-1/2 times as likely to have the disease as whites.

High blood pressure and stroke risks are thought to be the cause, Wilson said.

Of those with the disease, about 72 percent were living in the community and 25 percent at a nursing facility in the county. The living situation of the remainder is unknown.

Home caregivers need help to take care of their loved ones, Wilson said.

"Where is the training for the home centers?" Wilson said.

While there are challenges with ensuring individuals with Alzheimer's are appropriately served, she said there are success stories.

A drug called Leqembi serves as part of an infusion treatment that clears out amyloid plaques in the brain.

"It gives up to five or eight years of cognition to people who are diagnosed," Wilson said.

Another drug being looked at by the Federal Drug Administration is Donanemab.

"We are in the era of treatment," Wilson said. "There is no reason that Orangeburg, South Carolina should not have access to those treatments immediately.

"We want to make sure that we turn Orangeburg into a success story."

Sen. Vernon Stephens, D-Bowman, said "This is something that needs immediate attention."

In other business:

—About 15 judicial candidates throughout the state introduced themselves to the delegation.

State lawmakers are responsible for appointing judges. Elections are expected to be held sometime in February.

—The delegation made three re-appointments to the Orangeburg County First Steps Board. Angie Hutto, Dr. Sharon Daniels and Charlene Nimmons were each reappointed for another four-year term.

The terms will end July 1, 2027.

Orangeburg County First Steps is a local nonprofit that prepares children to reach the first grade.

—The Orangeburg County Voter Registration and Elections office was tasked with providing an overview of the needs at the new voting precinct in Norway. The precinct at the Norway Community Center at 5004 Norway Road needs to be upgraded to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

—The next scheduled meeting of the Orangeburg County Legislative Delegation is Monday, Jan. 8, at 5:30 p.m. in Orangeburg County Council Chambers.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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