Alzheimer's Foundation of America Urges Federal Officials to 'Reach Higher' with Final National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease

Report Proposes Expanded Medicare Coverage, Tax Breaks for Caregivers

NEW YORK, March 28, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA) today urged federal officials to "reach higher and farther" and to take additional, more aggressive actions to attack the Alzheimer's disease crisis, in a report that responds to the government's "Draft National Plan To Address Alzheimer's Disease."

In its report, entitled "The Time to Act Is Now," AFA calls for a new benefit for Medicare beneficiaries for diagnosis and care planning services specifically for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, federal tax credits for family members who are primary caregivers for loved ones with the brain disorder, and incentives for employers to adopt family-friendly policies, as well as other immediate action steps and recommendations.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued its draft national plan last month, which includes goals to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer's disease by 2025, and educate and support people with Alzheimer's disease and their families. HHS is accepting comments in preparation for its final plan this May. The final plan will mark the first national Alzheimer's plan, as mandated under the National Alzheimer's Project Act (NAPA) enacted in early 2011.

AFA praised the draft plan for setting out "laudable goals" and marking a "solid first step in establishing a comprehensive policy to fight Alzheimer's disease and related dementias." The plan incorporates many of AFA's initial recommendations to address the needs of Americans facing Alzheimer's now and in the future.

"What it fails to do, however, is take bold and decisive action to achieve the ultimate objective of quelling this growing crisis," said Eric J. Hall, AFA's president and CEO, and the author of AFA's "The Time to Act Is Now" report.

"The final plan must and can do more. It must reach higher and farther. Now is the time to seize the moment, and craft and implement a final national plan that will mark a strategic turning point in cure and care," said Hall, who is a member of the Advisory Council on Research, Care and Services that is advising on the development of the national strategy.

In its report, AFA also calls for specific deadlines and time frames, and the appointment of a dedicated federal official or high-ranking office to be fully accountable for the plan's progress. 

Pressing the importance of early detection, a hallmark of AFA's mission, the report recommends bold efforts to capture people in the early stages of the disease, including greater awareness of and education about symptoms for consumers and clinicians, wider utilization of validated memory screening tools, enhanced access to federal healthcare programs, higher provider reimbursement and wide-scale public awareness campaigns.

Among its proposals to further support individuals with dementia and their families, AFA said expanded Medicare coverage and tax breaks for family caregivers would enable more Americans to "practically and financially age in place."

Toward that end, it also calls for making adult day services a mandatory benefit under Medicaid; expanding existing consumer call centers, by mandating non-exclusive referrals to local organizations and utilization of licensed professionals; and adopting new delivery models that combine care coordination with access to home care services.

Urging more attention to the special needs of Americans with young-onset Alzheimer's disease, a rare form of the disease that can impact people as young as in their 30's and 40's, AFA recommends that all federal programs associated with Alzheimer's disease treatment, care and support be made available to all persons regardless of age.

It also encourages federal officials to further build on draft plan recommendations related to geriatric training for practitioners and direct-care workers. AFA's proposals include funding training related to behavioral interventions as an alternative to antipsychotic treatments, and establishing a 24-hour call center specifically for dementia care professionals. In advance of the final plan, AFA said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) could immediately require its partners to mandate specialized dementia care training, for example.

To enhance the goal of public-private partnerships recommended in the draft national plan, Hall said AFA and its member organizations nationwide "stand ready to work with federal agencies to enhance and expand the reach of service benefiting the Alzheimer's community."

"The final national plan must be comprehensive, extensive and reflect the full compassion of our society," Hall said.  "It is up to all of us now to speak up louder than ever to ensure that we keep moving forward on this historic opportunity to present our nation with a bold and transformative national plan."

The entire "The Time to Act Is Now" report is posted on www.alzfdn.org.

Creation of the national plan comes at a time when the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease is expected to escalate in line with the nation's aging population; advanced age is the greatest known risk factor. Alzheimer's disease currently affects more than five million Americans and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

The Alzheimer's Foundation of America, based in New York, is a national nonprofit organization that unites more than 1,600 member organizations nationwide with the goal of providing optimal care and services to individuals confronting dementia, and to their caregivers and families. Its services include counseling by licensed social workers via a toll-free hot line and Skype, educational materials, a National Memory Screening Day initiative, a free quarterly magazine for caregivers, and professional training. For more information about AFA, call toll-free 866-AFA-8484 or visit www.alzfdn.org.                

SOURCE Alzheimer's Foundation of America



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