Health & Human Services

Taking Action on Alzheimer's

The National Alzheimer's Project Act incorporates the state perspective in implementation.
by | February 2011

In a Phoenix nursing home, a 96-year-old Alzheimer’s patient who was previously agitated, combative and reluctant to eat has completely changed -- she’s now calm and peaceful, and even willing to eat.

The difference in her behavior stems from a nontraditional method of care, according to The New York Times. In her new nursing home, the patient is allowed to sleep, be bathed and eat whenever she wants -- even if it’s at 2 a.m. She also can eat whatever she wants, regardless of how healthful it may or may not be, like unlimited chocolate.

Expect to see stepped-up treatment, traditional and nontraditional, of this debilitating illness, thanks to the recent passage of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA), which President Obama signed into law on Jan. 4.

NAPA has a goal of accelerating the development of a variety of treatments that would prevent, halt or reverse Alzheimer’s while improving early diagnosis. Federal involvement relies on an advisory council of representatives from all federal agencies concerned with health, science and aging to address Alzheimer’s in a coordinated fashion with states, some of whom have been paying attention to the illness for some time.

In fact, early planning by a number of states is what drove NAPA into existence -- many either are in the process of developing plans or have plans on the books, says Toni Williams, associate director of public relations for the Alzheimer’s Association Public Policy Office. "There’s been a trend in several states where they’re rising to the challenge of Alzheimer’s and preparing for an onslaught of Alzheimer’s cases, particularly because of the aging baby boomers."

Those states with plans already in place won’t have to do anything differently. For states that don’t have plans, however, the passage of NAPA will help them begin to address the issue.

So far, 17 states have finished the planning process and are moving into implementation, according to Matthew Baumgart, senior director of government affairs at the Alzheimer’s Association, noting that each plan is somewhat different because it’s tailored to meet each state’s needs. Most plans, he says, address the need for home- and community-based services, long-term care finances, education and training, and some public health surveillance. "But some have some innovative things," Baumgart says. "Texas has a very strong public health component in its plan to educate, to promote early detection, to conduct brain health promotion. And North Dakota had a very innovative care consultation part of its plan where it divided the state into five regions, and each region has a care consultant specifically for people with Alzheimer’s."

As the federal government focuses on the law’s implementation, it will work closely with the states to align policy and coordinate a strategic national plan, according to Robert Egge, vice president of public policy at the Alzheimer’s Association. There will be formal discussions as part of NAPA that will include federal officials and two representatives from state health departments. "There’s recognition in the legislation that interplay between the federal and state issues in Alzheimer’s is critical and it has to be dealt with explicitly," adds Egge.

Will they discuss letting Alzheimer’s patients eat as much chocolate as their hearts desire? That may be getting a bit too nitty gritty for NAPA, according to Baumgart. But the new, combined federal and state focus on the problem bodes well for Alzheimer’s treatment overall.

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