What to Remember About Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia: a progressive brain disease known for its deterioration of memory, language, problem-solving, and other cognitive skills/bodily functions such as walking and swallowing. With 5.4 million Americans diagnosed in 2016, it is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. It is projected that by 2030, there will be 635,000 new cases of those with Alzheimer’s, and 959,000 new cases by 2050. Even more alarming: of those seniors with Alzheimer’s, more than two-thirds of them are women. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, at age 65, women without Alzheimer’s have more than a one in six chance of developing Alzheimer’s during the remainder of their lives, compared with a one in 11 chance for men. With statistics like these, it is no surprise that women lawmakers in all levels of government have this disease on their radar.

This year on the federal level, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced legislation that would increase training and assistance for families and caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. In her July 1, 2016  press release on the matter, Sen. Collins notes, “Our caregivers devote enormous time and attention, and they frequently must make many personal and financial sacrifices to ensure that their loved ones have the high-quality care they need day in and day out.  Our bipartisan legislation would help expand the availability of resources and training services that support the nearly 16 million caregivers across our nation who care for individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementias.” Sen. Klobuchar added, “Our bipartisan bill will expand training and support services for caregivers to improve their health and well-being. It will also allow caregivers to better take care of patients with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, letting patients stay in the comfort of their homes longer.”

However, state legislation focusing on Alzheimer’s Disease has been in the works for quite some time. In October 2015, California enacted Senate Bill 613, which requires the State’s Department of Public Health to assemble a workgroup to update the Guidelines for Alzheimer's Disease Management in California. These guidelines will address changes in the health care system, including changes in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and Medicare.

In August 2015, Illinois passed Senate Bill 1846 (“State Police Silver Alert”), mandating the Illinois Department of State Police develop a coordinated program for a statewide emergency alert system for those at least 21 years old who are reported missing and suspected to have Alzheimer’s. It also requires Illinois’ Department of Transportation to coordinate with the Department of State Police in the use of electronic message signs on roads and highways to immediately provide critical information to the public concerning missing persons with Alzheimer's disease or related dementias.

Maryland codified Senate Bill 679 (“Virginia I. Jones Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Council”) in May 2013, which established a commission responsible for recommending a state plan to address the needs of Marylanders with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Maryland Senator and Baltimore City Mayoral candidate Catherine Pugh was the primary sponsor of this bill; she also played an integral role in the 2016 legislation that extended the Council’s life to September 2019. Among other things, the council is responsible for complying with and developing the 2012 Maryland State Plan on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders.

Alzheimer’s Disease is more than just forgetting where you left your keys: it’s about slowly forgetting who you are. While there is not yet a cure, there may be a glimmer of hope in knowing that legislators in all levels of government are fighting to make Alzheimer’s a distant memory.

Author: Kellye Beathea, J.D.