The Obama administration is moving forward with an ambitious, fast-moving agenda to improve the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and unlock a method to prevent it by 2025. The final draft of the plan, released today, also sets up a wide-ranging effort to improve the care that Alzheimer’s patients receive and support families.
As many as 5.1 million Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number could more than double in the next few decades, said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius when she unveiled the plan at a National Institutes of Health summit on Alzheimer’s-related research.
The majority of the plan’s expected funding – $130 million over the next two years – will go toward NIH research, but another $26 million will go toward Alzheimer’s care and public awareness.
Chief among those is a government website, alzheimers.gov, also launched Tuesday. The site serves as a “one-stop shop,” Sebelius said, for patients and their families. It features information on Alzheimer’s diagnosis, caregiver support, insurance coverage and clinical trials for new treatments. A radio, TV and print campaign will promote the site beginning this summer and encourage families to plan ahead for the care of their loved ones.
The site will also serve as a resource for health care providers, featuring up-to-date information on how to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s. Sebelius noted that the health law requires Medicare providers to check patients for cognitive impairment during annual wellness visits, but it will be increasingly important for all providers to have guidelines for Alzheimer’s diagnosis and to look for signs of illness prior to age 65.
The online resources will complement several on-the-ground initiatives. Grants are being awarded this summer to educational centers that work with geriatricians, nurses and others to develop new curricula and training programs. Sebelius said that the administration’s goal is to “improve the care, immediately, that people with the disease receive.”
In addition, the administration plans to evaluate how Alzheimer’s patients fare within new health care models, like the medical homes and accountable care organizations being promoted by the health law. Reviews will focus on changes in patients’ cognitive function and on the efficiency of services provided. Work on that front is projected for completion by the end of this year.
It will take much longer, though, to find new treatments, or even a preventive treatment, for Alzheimer’s. NIH Director Francis Collins said Tuesday that study of the disease is “at an exceptional moment.” He went on to announce two major research grants: one will evaluate a nasal spray that could improve patients’ brain function; the other will test a preventive medication among a large family in Colombia whose members have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s.
The national plan for Alzheimer’s has been through several months of development since President Barack Obama signed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act in January 2011. Funding, however, remains an issue. The administration announced in February it would devote $156 million over two years to the national plan. Immediately, $50 million of already available NIH funds were transferred to Alzheimer’s-related projects. Another $80 million was requested as part of the president’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget, which has yet to be passed by Congress. Much of the $26 million going toward Alzheimer’s care and awareness is also awaiting approval.