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HHS updates national Alzheimer’s plan, adds initiatives on dementia’s impact on families

June 21, 2013
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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The Department of Health and Human Services has released the 2013 update to the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, formalizing several new initiatives to increase knowledge sharing and improve care quality for those living with dementia and their families.

The overarching goal of the National Plan is a weighty one: To prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) by 2025. The additions to the plan help carve pathways toward achieving those goals through coordinated research, physician/professional caregiver education and greater public awareness of the disease, its symptoms and its care protocols.

Some of the new initiatives added in this update are:

  • Issuing recommendations for evaluating drug treatments for early-stage AD, including “diagnostic criteria for evaluating therapeutic impact on early Alzheimer’s disease, strategies for demonstrating the impact through outcome measures, and the role of biomarkers.”
  • Conducting literature reviews to understand the impact of dementia on other chronic conditions, including how dementia can affect the outcomes and treatments of other co-existing conditions.
  • Creating a unified curriculum to train primary care physicians how to recognize symptoms and risk factors of AD and to provide up-to-date resources for proper diagnoses and early intervention.
  • Encouraging knowledge exchange between physicians and patients and their families about cognitive disease diagnoses and the availability of long-term care services.
  • Identifying quality measures that define high-quality dementia care.
  • Studying patterns in emergency department utilization among those with AD to educate caregivers and emergency response personnel and to reduce avoidable emergency room visits.
  • Expanding and publicizing respite services and other support for families and caregivers.
  • Expanding awareness of abuse and neglect among those with dementia, and improving access to legal services.
  • Gathering and making available the data on cognitive decline collected in 23 states during 2012.

The release of the update, one year after the original plan was published, prompted responses from agencies and organizations involved with the AD community. Many, including the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), welcome the new inclusion of guidances on drug therapies and best practices, protocols to avoid emergency room visits and increased education in all aspects of dementia.

The AFA also notes that the financial and emotional costs associated with dementia care are an extreme hardship on families, and that the government must step in to ease the burden. “Only through approaches such as making adult day services a mandatory Medicaid benefit and further availability of federal tax credits to help defray long-term care services will caregivers find relief in the absence of a cure,” states the AFA.

Organizations also say that government has a responsibility to provide the resources to fund the long list of initiatives now in the plan. Harry Johns, President and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association and a member of the Advisory Council to the Plan, notes,"Congress must see to it that the necessary resources are committed to accelerate and prioritize the government's efforts on Alzheimer's. Without these new resources, efforts in Alzheimer's research, care and support will continue to be hampered to the determent of millions of families and the economic well-being of the nation."

The national estimate of those living with AD is over 5.1 million, and is expected to triple as the baby boomer generation continues to age.

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