Early in January, a Department of Health and Human Services advisory panel issued a draft framework that represents the first step in a process to set up a national strategy to tackle Alzheimer's disease.
This plan was mandated by the National Alzheimer's Project Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law a year ago. Its challenge is to address the social and medical problems associated with the illness.
It's estimated that more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, an illness that wreaks havoc on the individuals and families it touches. It helps drive the nation's health care costs -- some experts place the estimate at more than $180 billion annually -- and is expected to become even more of a crisis as the baby-boomer generation continues to age.
The draft framework sets five ambitious goals -- not the least of which is preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer's by 2025. It also seeks to outline specific methods to better target research, to expand patient and family support, and to raise public awareness.
The push to craft a blueprint to empower health professionals, patients and caregivers to deal with this disease will continue in the weeks and months ahead. The draft framework provides a first take at setting broad goals and strategies. The next action -- a draft of the plan -- will likely be released sometime in February. And the final product, which is expected to be completed in late spring, will advance a strategy for managing efforts across a variety of federal agencies to improve Alzheimer's patients' health outcomes, and reduce the burden the disease places on their families and the nation.
But is this end result really attainable? And does the framework provide the necessary foundation to move forward?
Kaiser Health News asked Robert Egge, the Alzheimer's Association's vice president of public policy; and, Dr. Rachelle S. Doody, a Baylor College of Medicine researcher and clinician who directs Baylor's Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center; for their views on this emerging strategy – what it does right, what might be missing and what improvements are needed as the process continues. Their perspectives follow.
Taking Steps To Overcome Alzheimer's Disease
Robert Egge writes that the Alzheimer's Association "is encouraged by these continued steps" in the federal government's efforts to overcome this illness. But, he adds, "the stakes are high. A weak plan would risk locking the country into a status quo approach that is wholly inadequate measured against the scale of the crisis." Read his commentary.
An Opportunity For Action
According to Baylor's Dr. Rachelle Doody, the overall effort is a "historic opportunity for a comprehensive approach to the detection of memory disorders and the management of Alzheimer's disease." Though she recognizes "the importance of developing prevention approaches, tools for early detection, and effective therapies;' she also points out that "the draft framework is somewhat vague even as it contains excellent goals and begins to focus the minds and resources of key stakeholders on these goals." Read her commentary.
This article was produced by Kaiser Health News with support from The SCAN Foundation.