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Time to recognize public health crisis of Alzheimer's

The Jonesboro Sun - 11/25/2017

Time to recognize public health crisis of Alzheimer's

It is time we change our thinking on Alzheimer's disease. Too often,, Alzheimer's is treated as an aging issue but, similar to other diseases, Alzheimer's has a broad impact on communities. As such, it is more than just a health problem, but rather because the burden is large, the impact is major, and there are ways to intervene. Alzheimer's is a public health crisis. The burden is large and growing. Today, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's. In Arkansas alone, there are nearly 60,000 people known to be living with Alzheimer's and thousands of others caring for them each day. It's the most expensive disease in the country, and in 2017 the cost of caring for people with Alzheimer's will be $259 billion. The costs are expected to rise. By 2050, direct annual costs are expected to rise to $1.1 trillion. The impact of Alzheimer's disease is undeniable. Medicare and Medicaid bear two-thirds of the health and long term care costs of those living with Alzheimer's. In 2017 alone, Medicare and Medicaid will spend $175 billion caring for individuals living with Alzheimer's with Arkansas' share of the Medicaid cost reaching $335 million.

"My wife and I have been primary caregivers for my mother for several years," said Arkansas Alzheimer's advocate Mark Aloway. "As her caregiver, I worry about whether my mom is being properly cared for when I am not around. Since my mom can't accurately tell me about her care, I can only hope and pray that those who watch have enough training to handle someone with Alzheimer's."

Now, Congress has a chance to take decisive action by passing the Building Our Largest Dementia (BOLD) Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act (S. 2076/H.R. 4256). Introduced by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and endorsed by the Alzheimer's Association and the Alzheimer's Impact Movement, the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act would address Alzheimer's as a public health issue.

Public health works on a population level to protect and improve the health and safety of an entire community or group of people. By working with diverse communities, public health expands the reach and impact of health care efforts. Passing the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act would multiply our efforts to care for those living with the disease, improve care quality, provide enhanced support for caregivers and allow us to better understand the disease.Specifically, the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act would establish Alzheimer's Centers of Excellence around the country to expand and promote innovative and effective Alzheimer's interventions. It would also provide funding to state, local and tribal public health departments to implement the Public Health Road Map and to promote cognitive health, risk reduction, early detection and diagnosis, and the needs of caregivers. Public health officials can use the traditional tools and techniques of public health to improve the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer's and to reduce the costs associated with it.

The BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act would also increase collection, analysis and timely reporting of data on cognitive decline and caregiving. This data is critical to identifying opportunities for public health interventions, helping stakeholders track progress in the public health response and enabling state and federal policymakers to make informed decisions when developing plans and policies. This bipartisan bill is already receiving support in Congress. Today, eight members have signed on to support this legislation. I am confident that Arkansas' six members of Congress will support this critical piece of legislation. Please join me in asking Republicans Sen. John Boozman, Sen. Tom Cotton, Rep. Rick Crawford , Rep. French Hill, Rep. Bruce Westerman and Rep. Steve Womack to represent Arkansans and support the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act today.

Susan Neyman is the executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

 
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