HHS To Step Up Alzheimer’s Research

Federal officials have taken another step toward their goal of better treatment for and even prevention of Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, according to Kaiser Health News. A more comprehensive, draft version of the Obama administration’s national plan to address Alzheimer’s is now available. Experts emphasized expanding and better coordinating disease research, primarily through public-private partnerships.  They also stressed improved preparation for the healthcare workforce, enhancing public outreach and providing Alzheimer’s families with financial and other support.  To achieve these goals, President Obama proposed an additional $106 million in federal funds as part of his 2013 budget.

The Alzheimer’s advisory council provides new specifics about how the money will be used.  For example, they propose creating registries to better direct Alzheimer’s patients into clinical trials, as well as establishing a national inventory of research investments.  On the healthcare side, the council proposes working with private partners to develop evidence-based guidelines for Alzheimer’s care and establishing a national clearinghouse to publicize those recommendations.  Additionally, the council advocates that new healthcare models – such as the medical homes and accountable care organizations promoted by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) – be analyzed for outcomes among Alzheimer’s patients.

The draft plan, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), places top priority on treatment, and focuses on the burden the disease places on families and caregivers.  “Alzheimer’s burdens an increasing number of our nation’s elders and their families, and it is essential that we confront the challenge it poses to our public health,” President Barack Obama said.  The White House plans to divert an additional $50 million this year from HHS projects to Alzheimer’s research, and seeks an extra $80 million in new research funding in fiscal 2013.  “These investments will open new opportunities in Alzheimer’s disease research and jumpstart efforts to reach the 2025 goal,” according to HHS.

Eric Hall, president and chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and a member of the advisory council that has been working with HHS, said the draft proposal addresses many of the panel’s concerns.  “Given the current economic environment that limits much-needed resources and the scientific unknowns of this disease, we believe that defeating Alzheimer’s disease will likely happen in a series of small victories,” Hall said.  He was particularly satisfied that the plan focuses on educating healthcare providers on detecting early signs of cognitive impairment and linking newly diagnosed families with support services.

A differing perspective was offered by George Vradenburg, chairman of USAgainstAlzheimer’s and an advisory panel member, who said the draft plan does not go far enough.  “This first draft fails to present a strategy aggressive enough to achieve the goal of preventing and treating Alzheimer’s within 13 years,” he said, noting that the plan lacks specific timelines and does not hold any high-level officials accountable for meeting the plan’s goals.

More than five million Americans already have Alzheimer’s or similar dementias, a number that is expected to rise to 16 million by 2050, along with skyrocketing medical and nursing home bills, because the population is aging so rapidly.  “They’ve covered the right topics.  What is needed now is more detail,” said Alzheimer’s Association President Harry Johns.  “There’s real recognition at this point that Alzheimer’s is devastating for not only the individual but for the families and caregivers.”

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