Studies and plans related to public initiatives often suffer from a shortage of concrete solutions and end up relegated to a dusty office shelf or filing cabinet. If Eric Hall has his way, that won’t happen with the federal government’s national Alzheimer’s plan, released last May and slated for yearly updates.
Hall, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, and a member of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Advisory Council that developed the plan, will be joining other members of the public-private council next week to propose changes to the plan. HHS is expected to release the amended version in April. AFA’s report measures the national plan’s progress to date and offers additional recommendations related to its three areas of focus: research, clinical care and long-term services and supports.
“A firm foundation has been laid to help move the needle toward better research discoveries, better care practices and better public awareness of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Hall. “But if we want to effectively combat this looming epidemic, we need more. Now is the time to build. And given the enormity of this disease state, the federal government must lead the charge.”
Hall says that while his foundation supports the plan’s focus on Alzheimer’s research and finding a cure, more attention needs to be paid to clinical care and support services. “I applaud the [resources] that have gone into Alzheimer’s research in year one of the plan and the administration’s aggressive effort to get the plan moving and resources available to the public, but the rest of the plan requires funding and it will only come about based on reliable statistics,” says Hall.
Apparently, one of the problems with current focus on Alzheimer’s is a lack of solid data on the number of persons in the U.S. afflicted with the disease, Hall says. The latest figure (5.5 million, according to the National Institute on Aging) is 10 years old and needs to be revisited. “I’m not sure how we can fund any of the clinical or supports pieces unless we understand the numbers around how many people have [Alzheimer’s] and the demands on our economy, society and healthcare structure,” says Hall.
The AFA’s more than three dozen recommendations include some creative and practical ways to address the enormous cost borne by caregivers, and include: qualifying all people with Alzheimer’s disease, regardless of age, for Medicare benefits and Administration on Aging programs; income tax deductions for out-of-pocket expenses for long-term services and federal tax credits for primary caregivers; and building a high-quality dementia care workforce by offering federal student loan forgiveness for professionals in geriatrics and gerontology.
“I don’t want a national plan sitting on a shelf,” says Hall. “We need recommendations that are acted on now. Our requests are meant to start the conversation and these are very legitimate first steps.”