By Jennifer Braisted, Director of Government Affairs, Alzheimer’s Association Florida
Why Alzheimer’s is a Public Health Issue
When you think of a public health issue, stopping smoking or clean water probably comes to mind, Alzheimer’s may not. As former U.S. Surgeon General and CDC Director, Dr. David Satcher said “Alzheimer’s is the most under-recognized threat to public health in the 21st century.”
Alzheimer’s is a public health crisis because the burden is great, the costs are astronomical and there are ways to intervene. Florida has been working to be at the forefront of addressing Alzheimer’s as a public health issue.
In 2018, The Alzheimer’s Association worked with Congress on the creation of the Building Our Largest Dementia (BOLD) Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act. This legislation created a public health infrastructure in the country to address early detection, early diagnosis, and early interventions to reduce the risk of dementia. It increases funding for local county health departments and increases data collection. This bill was signed into law on December 31, 2018. The Alzheimer’s Association continues to advocate for funding for BOLD implementation. For this current Fiscal Year (FY), the Alzheimer’s Association is asking for $30 million dollars.
Alzheimer’s as a standalone priority on Florida’s State Health Improvement Plan
In 2019, within his first 60 days in office, Governor Ron DeSantis released his dementia action plan. A key tenet of his plan was to include Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) as a standalone priority on the Florida State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP). Florida became the first and only state to have ADRD as a standalone priority in a SHIP. The SHIP is a five-year blueprint for public health within each state. The ADRD priority area only had two years of the five-year plan to raise the level of awareness and implement the newly created goals and objectives. Luckily the ADRD workgroup worked diligently and in just two years they established new partnerships and created an ADRD resource guide and an ADRD caregiver toolkit.
In 2021, the process for the new 2022-2026 SHIP began. Thanks to Governor DeSantis and his leadership team ADRD was included again as a priority for the 2022-2026 SHIP. The SHIP ADRD workgroup is chaired by Anne Chansler, Division Director of Elder Opportunities, Department of Elder Affairs, and myself, Jennifer Braisted, Director of Government Affairs, Alzheimer’s Association Florida. The workgroup has ambitious goals and objectives.
The SHIP officially begins July 1, 2022, but the workgroup has already hit the ground running. The first step for each goal workgroup is to distribute a survey to collect data on what services and resources are missing. To learn more about the Florida SHIP ADRD goals, objectives, and strategies, visit here.
The Sunshine State is READY to do more in the fight against Alzheimer’s.
Another public health effort Florida is taking to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s is SB 806, The Ramping Up Education for Alzheimer’s and Dementia for You (READY) Act. This legislation sponsored by Senator Keith Perry and Representative Michelle Salzman requires the Department of Health to educate health care providers on the warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s and information on risk reduction strategies by utilizing existing public health campaigns.
Additionally, medical professionals and other health care practitioners will be taught how to use a validated cognitive assessment tool, and “the value and effectiveness of the Medicare annual wellness visit” to detect Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s Association advocates worked ardently to see the passage of this bill. This legislation was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on June 23, 2022. The law will go into effect on July 1.
Tampa-based geriatrician Dr. Rosemary Laird, provided comment in support of the legislation. Laird is a member of the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease and Advisory Committee and an Alzheimer’s Association advocate.
“For years it has been thought that memory loss is an inevitable fact of aging. While there are changes to the brain as we age, those with Alzheimer’s disease are facing a uniquely challenging illness and deserve to be diagnosed as early as possible and supported fully,” Laird said. “Providers need to be ready to use evidence-based tools to evaluate, diagnose and advise patients. The READY Act is a vital support to existing networks of programs addressing this significant need.”
There are over 580,000 Floridians living with Alzheimer’s and those numbers are projected to increase by over 24 percent by 2025. We will continue to work to move the needle forward to address this public health crisis.
To get involved in the SHIP or any Alzheimer’s Association advocacy work, please visit www.alzimpact.org/volunteer.