NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Alzheimer’s disease is expected to spike nationwide in future years, and according to new data released by the Alzheimer’s Association, there is a significant shortage in the dementia care workforce.  

Twenty states in the U.S. have been identified as neurology “deserts” by the Alzheimer’s Association, meaning they had a projected shortage of doctors and caregivers specializing in dementia.

Carolyn Berry of Tennessee — one of the 20 “desert” states — says she’s aware of the challenges faced by families of those with cognitive diseases. Berry lost both her grandmother and mother to Alzheimer’s. 

“There are beautiful moments in caring for the loved one that you are losing,” said Berry, who added that she was lucky to have a large family to help with care.

Berry, however, said even the initial diagnosis was problematic.

“We started suspecting some things in her late 60s, had her tested when she was 70,” Berry said. “The testing come back that she was on par with her age, which was not correct.”

Kevin Fehr, president and CEO of Amada Senior Care in Tennessee, said the neurology “desert” is partly to blame for the failure of timely diagnoses.

“With the lack of neurologists, folks with a specialty in this area, the diagnosis are often delayed,” Fehr said.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s in 2023. By 2050, that number is expected to increase to almost 13 million.

“It is a very difficult task to hire and retain qualified caregivers in this area, partially because it’s a lower-paying job,” Fehr said. 

Fehr’s agency focuses on at-home care, specifically for clients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. But in recent years, at-home care has been falling on loved ones amid a statewide shortage in the dementia care workforce.

It’s not a problem specific to Tennessee, of course. The Alzheimer’s Association reported over 360,000 unpaid caregivers in the state last year, and the organization estimates that more than 11 million Americans are providing similar unpaid care nationwide.

Berry, as one of those caregivers, believes more education, research and training needs to be done.  

“You can see the challenge the healthcare is receiving in general but specifically Alzheimer’s and dementia care,” Fehr said.