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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
June 2018
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Opinion
by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
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Fighting for a Cure During Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

June is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and across the country patients, caregivers, doctors and community advocates are working to raise awareness about this deadly disease. Advocating for a comprehensive support system for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease is a deeply personal fight. Like too many Americans, I have lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s: my grandmother, Katherine. She was my namesake, my mentor, and continues to be one of my biggest inspirations.

My grandmother was one of millions of Americans touched by this terrible disease. With more seniors over age 65 diagnosed each year, Alzheimer’s disease is an urgent public health crisis. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect more than 5 million Americans, a number expected to triple by 2050. In Nevada alone, there were 41,000 people living with Alzheimer’s in 2017, and in the next seven years, the state is expected to see a 42.2 percent increase in cases, making Nevada home to 64,000 people afflicted by 2025.

On a recent trip to Reno, I sat down with Alzheimer’s advocates, researchers, caregivers, and members of Nevada’s State Task Force on Alzheimer’s disease to speak about the challenges and experiences of those affected by dementia. Nevada has taken important steps to address Alzheimer’s disease at the state level by advocating for better access to treatment services, improved quality of care and increased public awareness about the disease. Nevada’s Task Force on Alzheimer’s continues to advocate for state-level legislative solutions like the expansion of tele-sales services for patients in rural areas and the creation of best practices care plans for dementia patients in Nevada’s hospitals. As Nevada’s senator, it is my priority to ensure that the work Nevada is doing to combat Alzheimer’s is being supported at the federal level.

Alzheimer’s is already the most expensive disease in America. It costs the United States $277 billion, including $186 billion paid by Medicare and Medicaid, every year. I have fought in the Senate to protect Medicare and Medicaid from budget cuts. And I will continue to be a vocal advocate for important Medicare programs like the one started in January of 2017, which gives Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers access to person-centered care planning services. These types of services allows individuals with Alzheimer’s and their families to seek professional medical advice and support in evaluating cognitive function, identifying caregiver needs and accessing new clinical trials and treatments.

Our country also needs comprehensive public health infrastructure to promote research and prevent treatment costs from spiraling further out of control. That is why I am an original cosponsor of the bipartisan BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act. This legislation would promote ground-breaking Alzheimer’s research and treatment options by establishing Centers of Excellence dedicated to promoting effective interventions and educating the public on Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline and brain health. In addition, it would enhance the CDC’s data collection capacity, so that we can collect, analyze and disseminate data in a timely manner.

I saw firsthand how my grandmother’s diagnosis touched my entire family. This disease transforms the lives of countless husbands, wives, sons, daughters and friends who become caregivers to those diagnosed. Fighting for a cure for Alzheimer’s must also include support for the 149,000 caregivers in Nevada who dedicate countless hours to the care of loved ones. Groups like the Nevada Caregivers Association and the Dementia Friendly Initiative should be bolstered by federal programs and funding. My bill, the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act, takes a first step by providing grants to state and local health departments to help them provide better resources and planning services for caregivers.

Alzheimer’s is not a disease that can be fought alone. It is the voices of advocates in Nevada, and the legacy of my grandmother, that inspire me to fight in the senate for more federal funding and health infrastructure to treat Alzheimer’s disease, support caregivers, and strive for a cure.