A national Alzheimer’s disease advisory council has set preliminary goals and recommendations for a national strategic plan to slow — or even bring to an end to — the expected rise in new cases as the baby boomer generation ages. The plan’s goal is to prevent and successfully treat the disease as soon as 2025. The objectives include enhancing care quality and efficiency, expanding patient and family support, enhancing public awareness and engagement, and improving data to track disease progress.
The plan is part of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act that was signed into law on recently by President Barack Obama. The law created the Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care, and Services. The new law requires the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the advisory council to create and maintain a national plan to defeat Alzheimer’s. Members of the council’s subgroups on long-term services and supports (LTSS), clinical care, and research are meeting to comment on and provide recommendations to formulate the plan’s draft framework.
The council’s members support alternatives to Medicare coverage and physician reimbursement to encourage the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and provide care planning to individuals diagnosed with the disease and their caregivers. Additionally, quality indicators for the care and treatment of individuals with Alzheimer’s need to be formulated. The group proposed medical home pilot projects specifically designed to improve medical management for Alzheimer’s patients using grants from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI).
More than five million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a brain disease that causes dementia and affects primarily elderly people. Some experts estimate that treating the disease costs the United States more than $170 billion annually. Australia, France and South Korea already have comprehensive Alzheimer’s plans, and worldwide experts have been urging the United States to assume a leadership role.
“We want to demonstrate that as a country we are committed to addressing this issue,” Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at HHS, said. “We know the projected number of patients is expected to rise in the future. We know there are far too many patients who are suffering from this devastating condition and it is affecting them and their caregivers,” Koh said.
Other experts believe that the 2025 deadline is too close and unrealistic. “No one set a deadline for the ‘War on cancer’ or in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We make progress and we keep fighting. The same should be true for Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Sam Gandy, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “In my mind, that provides the unfortunate sense that we will have ‘failed’ if we don’t have a cure by 2025.” The National Alzheimer’s Project Act provides no new funding for research. Although some drug companies have compounds in clinical trials, researchers say they are just beginning to understand the complex disease, which develops without any symptoms for 15 to 20 years before any memory problems begin to show. “This means that if we had, today, already in hand, the funding, recruitment and the perfect drug, the trial would still take 15 to 20 years,” Gandy said.
According to P.J. Skerrett, Editor of Harvard Health, “Like a powerful wave, the Alzheimer’s epidemic is expected to crest in 2050. At that time an estimated 16 million Americans will be living with this mind-robbing disease. (About 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s Disease today.) In an effort to head off the explosion, President Obama has signed into law the National Alzheimer’s Project Act.
This ambitious project aims to attack Alzheimer’s on several fronts:
- Improving early diagnosis. The brain changes that lead to Alzheimer’s disease probably begin years before memory loss and other problems appear. Earlier diagnosis could help families better plan for the future, and could be especially important if better treatments become available.
- Finding effective prevention and treatment strategies. Today’s treatments relieve symptoms for only a short time; none prevent or stop Alzheimer’s-related mental decline. New treatments that are more durable would be a huge boon to current and future Alzheimer’s sufferers.
- Providing more family support. Spouses and adult children are the primary caregivers for many people with Alzheimer’s disease. The day-to-day challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be daunting. Many caregivers have no training and don’t know what resources are available to them. The project would provide better education and support for caregivers.” Skerrett said.