BETHESDA, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - On Monday, newly released data revealed the state of Maryland has the highest number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in the entire nation.
Prince George's County also ranks near the top for Alzheimer's prevalence.
Currently, more than 110,000 people aged 65 and older are living with the disease in the state. By 2025, that number is expected to rise to 130,000 people, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
As we deal with an aging population, experts say early detection is key.
"The faster you can recognize this disease state and get prepared for it, the faster and easier it is going to be to get treatment that you need," said Lisa Gables, CEO of the American Academy of Physician Associates.
That's why the American Academy of Physician Associates teamed up with the Davos Alzheimer's Collaborative and the Cleveland Clinic to test out new screening tools.
The study is focusing on five rural sites nationwide, including one in Hughesville, Maryland called Thrive Primary Care, operated by physician associate Jen Mohler, PA-C.
Mohler serves patients from Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert Counties.
"There aren't very many specialists in our area, not just neurologists, but specialists in general," Mohler explained. "And they're booking months out."
This 12-week pilot program focuses on early detection that can be done by physician assistants. And it's not just for patients.
"It's helpful for us as primary care providers to be able to give resources to the family, have them understand what the next steps and stages look like and how they can best support the patient," Mohler explained. "Along with the changes in their brain also come changes with how they function independently at home. Being able to prepare our community to support these individuals and value them, I think that's super important."
Mohler said the tools they're testing have been helpful in guiding patients to lifestyle adjustments and new medications on the market if their cognitive screenings turn up red flags.
Research has shown changes to diet and exercise can reduce the risk of dementia and slow the progression of Alzheimer's.
According to the AAPA, the overall goal of the project is to increase the rates of cognitive screenings for eligible patients by bolstering providers’ levels of comfort and knowledge around conducting those screenings, having conversations with their patients, and referring patients for further assessment as needed.