Five years ago, Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton internally vowed to help those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Her motivation came from a personal experience that critically impacted her life.
Stratton served as the primary caregiver for her late mother, Velma Wiggins, a compassionate teacher who transitioned in 2016. From that experience, Stratton learned how Alzheimer’s impacts more than the patient. The disease wraps around the family and changes the structure of the household.
“It was an honor to care for my mother, but it was one of the most stressful and emotionally draining periods of my life,” Stratton said. “I want to make that experience better for others.”
So the Illinois chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and Stratton’s initiative, “Through Our Eyes,” conducted a listening tour throughout the state in 2019.
They collaborated to get a handle on how caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients themselves can receive assistance with this life-altering disease. During the tour, people across the board said that more education about Alzheimer’s is needed to detect the disease early. Now a bill soon to be law will make a difference.
“It’s just a great and rewarding feeling,” said Stratton, “to know that we used what we saw and heard to find a solution that will positively impact lives.”
Senate Bill #677 is destined to be signed into law by Governor JB Pritzker, which will make Illinois the first state in the nation to require early detection training to spot Alzheimer’s. The law requires one hour of training for most healthcare professionals, including nurses, doctors, therapists, social workers, and others.
The healthcare professionals are required to upgrade their education every three years, and the class is part of their continuing education credit. More than 230,000 individuals are living with Alzheimer’s in Illinois.
By increasing Alzheimer’s awareness, families can be proactive in their approach to working with family members who are living with the disease that predominately impacts people of color and women. Blacks are 50% more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s than their White counterparts. “Also, most Alzheimer’s patients are women, and most caregivers are women,” Stratton added. “This bill is very much about increasing support to them and all who need it.”
The bill was sponsored by Senator Ram Villivalam and Representative Kathleen Willis. It passed the Illinois Senate unanimously, 56-0-0, and the house, 111-0-1.
The bill is timely. Physicians participating in an Alzheimer’s report say they expected a surge in Alzheimer patients by 2050 as the aging population increases in the United States. Researchers are hopeful that supplemental health education and training will prepare families to adapt their communities to these challenges.
Stratton said that this bill shows compassion and a commitment to one of the most vulnerable communities within Illinois. She feels that her mother’s spirit approves of her work in this area. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my mother,” Stratton said. “I know that she is looking down smiling.”