Alzheimer's disease plaque. (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine Photo/James Eberwine)

Ruth Gay, a San Francisco-based advocate for people with Alzheimer’s, says dementia hits U.S. emergency rooms hard.

Gay talked about the problem earlier this week in Washington at a meeting of the federal Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care and Services.

Congress created the panel in an effort to speed up efforts to help people with dementia and their caregivers.

A 2013 survey of hospital emergency room staff members found that as many as 60 percent of the people coming to emergency rooms have some form of dementia, Gay said, according to a written version of her presentation included in a meeting packet.

As many as 70 percent of the people coming in with dementia may have no true medical reason for the visit and no other places to go for help, Gay said.

More than 40 percent of the people with dementia who go to emergency rooms arrive alone, Gay added.

In Northern California, one research team found that offering strong social worker support for people with dementia and their caregivers cut the hospitalization rate by 40 percent, Gay said.

The Alzheimer’s panel also discussed the 2014 update of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease. Like earlier versions, the new update gives little attention to private efforts to save or insure against dementia risk.

Panel members continue to say that private long-term care insurance is difficult to get and that financing options for people who know they have dementia are limited. The panel members also continue to say that someone should encourage families to plan ahead for the possibility that they might need Alzheimer’s, and that the government is working to learn why middle-aged adults do or do not plan for long-term care needs.

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