In the past year Congress has focused its attention on Alzheimer's Disease. In 12 separate hearings, physicians, researchers and family members have testified to the urgent need for more research and better resources for caregivers.
The Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill for FY 1984, signed by the President in October, includes an appropriation for a significant increase in funds for research in Alzheimer's Disease and 3.5 million dollars to launch five Alzheimer's Dis: ease centers. These centers will include research, clinical training and community education components. The increase in research funds may be as much as IS million more than the 22 million spent this year.
In addition, bills have been introduced into the Congress to implement improved Veterans Administration services to AD victims (HR 4273) and to provide tax breaks for caregivers (HR 4274). A third bill (HR 4272) would amend the Older American's Act to give priority for student grants to those who would specialize in custodial or skilled care of AD victims and to mandate that state agencies on aging and service providers establish training and demonstration projects that address AD patient needs.
Congress has directed the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan to improve and expand training in geriatrics. Current lack of enough geriatricians skilled in the diagnosis of dementing illnesses was emphasized. This joint planning committee will be headed by the new Director of the National Institute on Aging, T Franklin Williams, M. D.
Margaret Heckler, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has established an inter-agency task force on Alzheimer's Disease, chaired by Edward N. Brandt, Jr., Assistant Secretary for Health. The task force is mandated to coordinate and speed research on Alzheimer's, to translate research findings into policy, and to advocate for interchange of information.
The Veterans Administration has recognized the problems and demands AD places on them. A first step-;- the drafting of VA care guidelines for AD patients - has begun.
The Health Care Financing Administration and Social Security Disability Examiners are also exploring the impact of AD on their programs.
Congressional focus has spawned a new interest on the part of state governments, state administrators on aging, and state medical assistance agencies. They are consulting with professionals and ADRDA to explore policy direction.
These changes are encouraging, both to the family caregivers and to nurses caring for AD patients. However, the task remains to devise realistic policies and to implement change. At the same time efforts must continue in order to maintain legislative commitment to this problem. Nurses in practice have an important role in continuing to educate their communities about the impact of dementia as they teach skills in patient care.