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Plan for agency on Alzheimer’s Disease support moves forward

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(The Center Square) – Reform on Alzheimer’s Disease and similar conditions took another step toward the Pennsylvania governor’s desk last week.

Leaders in the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee hope to build momentum behind the issue after a plan laid out in 2014 to address the many obstacles facing those seeking care has largely fallen flat.

“We have a growing public health crisis that drains the physical, emotional and financial health of all those impacted including state government resources,” said bill sponsor Rep. Maureen Madden, D-Monroe. “Different government agencies administer programs and initiatives that are critical to people living with dementia, but these are predominately siloed with multiple state agencies working separately from one another.”

The bill, a companion to Senate Bill 840, establishing an Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders (ADRD) Office, promises to remedy some of these issues by creating infrastructural support through full-time state agency positions.

Caregivers for those suffering from ADRD say the costly and complex network of medical providers and social support is difficult, if not impossible, to navigate alone. In an informational hearing earlier this month, legislators heard testimony from those who work or have been thrust into the system while caring for loved ones.

Several lawmakers, including Madden, have spoken about their own experiences with the impact of cognitive impairment.

“It’s an issue that’s important to me,” said Rep. Steve Mentzer, R-Lancaster, recalling his mother-in-law’s battle with Alzheimer’s.

The state’s population is aging, and with it, a wave of new ADRD diagnoses is expected. It’s a daunting prospect for an already overtaxed healthcare system in which appropriate staffing is hard to come by and costs are ballooning.

In 2020, the Medicare cost for the conditions was $3.7 billion within the state, with over 282,000 living with ADRD. That number is expected to have increased 10% by 2025.

Experts hope that increasing public awareness about the illness will not only help to mitigate its effects but potentially increase prevention.

Dr. James Weeden, program manager of the Chronic Disease, Injury Prevention, and Violence Prevention Program at the Allegheny County Health Department, noted that high blood pressure, diabetes and physical inactivity are major risk factors for ADRD.

By utilizing early detection techniques to evaluate potential risks and encouraging younger adults to pursue healthy lifestyles, healthcare advocates hope that future generations may see a decline in ADRD diagnoses.

“Everyone can agree that the impact of this disease extends well beyond those aged 60 and older, which is why a coordinated, interdepartmental approach that incorporates a broad spectrum of public-private partnerships is necessary to address the multi-faceted challenges of this disease effectively and efficiently,” said Madden.

The bill now awaits full consideration in the House.

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