Aroostook has the highest rate of Alzheimer’s in Maine

10 months ago

An aging population has given Aroostook County the highest percentage of Alzheimer’s patients in Maine, according to newly released national data.

The Alzheimer’s Association announced its first set of U.S. county-level data on the disease Tuesday. The study found that 10.7 percent of Aroostook’s population aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s, higher than Maine’s overall 10.1 percent.

Maine’s aging population places Aroostook and eight other counties — Cumberland, Androscogin, Penobscot, York, Lincoln, Knox, Kennebec and Sagadahoc — at or above 10 percent. 

At least 25.9 percent of Aroostook’s population is 65 or older, compared with 17.3 percent of Maine’s population, according to the U.S. census data.

Though Maine has the highest median age in the nation, Aroostook’s rural location makes it more vulnerable to the state’s “neurology desert,” said Jill Carney, public policy director for the Alzheimer’s Association Maine chapter.

Maine is among 20 states that do not have enough neurologists to meet the demand for preventive care, neurological assessments and treatment. With no neurologists practicing in Aroostook, residents typically travel to other counties in Maine for those services.

That’s why Aroostook Agency on Aging is developing the Aroostook Memory Care Center, adjacent to its Presque Isle office, which will provide access to telehealth appointments with Bangor’s Acadia Hospital Mood and Memory Center.

The center is set to open within the next few months, once renovations have been completed and staff have been hired, said Vi Belanger, the agency’s Memory Care Center manager.

The agency wants the Memory Care Center to bridge the gaps between Aroostook residents and services they might not receive locally now. While Acadia Hospital will provide assessments, early diagnosis and treatment plans, Aroostook agency staff will work to increase education and support services for clients and caregivers.

“We’re already receiving referrals from primary care providers,” Belanger said. “If people aren’t able to travel [for care], we can take those referrals and work [with Acadia] on a care plan.”

More recent data show just how much the Memory Care Center is needed for Aroostook’s aging population, Belanger said.

Alzheimer’s is the fifth leading cause of death in Aroostook County, preceded by cancer, heart disease, chronic lower respiratory disease and unintentional injuries, according to the 2022 Maine Community Health Needs Assessment. 

Knowing such data will help programs like the Aroostook Agency and Alzheimer’s Association do more outreach to rural counties, Belanger said. 

Amy Angelo, project manager for the association’s Maine chapter, sits on the Memory Center’s advisory committee, and Carney was recently in The County for a public awareness event on Alzheimer’s.

Carney is already seeing a difference in how Aroostook residents are responding to the increased need.

“We had 100 people [at the awareness event],” Carney said. “With the rural populations, there is going to be the need for more community outreach and support programs.”