Heinle
Heinle

Gov. Tom Corbett has appointed a local nurse to a state committee that will address Alzheimer's disease.

Susan Heinle of York Township is one of 17 members of the Pennsylvania Alzheimer's Disease State Planning Committee. Corbett announced the appointments last week.

Alzheimer's is a form of dementia, a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking and behavior.

Established through executive order in February, the committee will work to create a plan to address the prevalence and growth of Alzheimer's and other related brain disorders in the state. Among the states with the oldest population, Pennsylvania has the fifth-highest occurrence of Alzheimer's disease in the nation, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.

Nurse: Heinle was born and raised in the county and attended York College. The registered nurse said she has experienced Alzheimer's both personally with family members and professionally in her 26-year career in home health care.

Heinle, 53, is president and owner of Visiting Angels, a

300-person organization that assists seniors with nonmedical needs, such as bathing and dressing, as well as in-home care. It opened in 2002 and has offices in Springettsbury Township and Hanover.

Three years ago, Visiting Angels identified that more than 50 percent of its patients either have dementia or have a family member who is afflicted, she said. The organization's main goal is to keep older adults at home as long as possible, Heinle said.

"Every family that we have served, their goal is to keep their loved one at home," she said. "To help people achieve that goal, that's really important to me."

She said education and information are critical when it comes to caring for dementia.

"It's a matter of awareness, education -- and hopefully we'll be looking at reimbursement," she said, referring to how the state pays for Alzheimer's services and how to spend those dollars appropriately.

This year, the direct costs of care for those with Alzheimer's to American society will be about $203 billion, including $142 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

The disease: One in every three seniors dies with Alzheimer's or another dementia, according to the association. There is no cure, prevention or way to slow the progression of the disease.

Heinle said the problem lies with our aging population.

"As you age, the chances of you developing (dementia) increases," she said. "The concern is with the baby boomers."

Results from the 2010 Census show that Pennsylvania is home to more than 3.3 million baby boomers, making up 26.6 percent of its population. It ranks eighth in the nation with that proportion, according to the Pennsylvania State Data Center.

"That size of the baby boomer generation is moving through our health care system, and the needs are going to be great," Heinle said.

The committee: Committee members will have until February of next year to develop a plan to help care for residents with the disease and other related brain disorders.

"The committee has been asked to assess the impact of Alzheimer's on its residents," Heinle said. "After that, the committee will develop a blueprint for how state agencies, medical personnel, caregivers and families can work together for the care and treatment of those who are suffering from it."

Members appointed by the governor are diverse, including people who've experienced the disease personally, professionally and even first-hand, according to the executive order. They will serve one-year terms and receive no compensation.

The other appointees are: Dianne Allaire, Erie; Glenda Cardilla, Harrisburg; Michael Ellenbogen, Jamison; Jill Fortinksky Schwartz, Pittston; George Gunn, Lansdale; Beth Herold, Butler; Cynthia Lambert, Macungie; David Leader, Hershey; Bob Marino, Lafayette Hill; Cheryl Martin, Palmyra; Kelly O'Shea, Coopersburg; Robin Mozley, Jeannette; Heidi Owen, West Chester; Charles Reynolds, Pittsburgh; Stuart Shapiro, Bala Cynwyd; and John Trojanowski, Philadelphia.

-- Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.