Sebelius confirms Obama administration's commitment to Alzheimer's

April 24, 2012

During a lunch program Tuesday at the 2012 Alzheimer's Association Advocacy Forum, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius addressed more than 700 Alzheimer's advocates on the Obama administration's commitment to the development of the first-ever National Alzheimer's Plan.

Alzheimer's Association President and CEO Harry Johns began by noting that while Alzheimer's is a bipartisan issue that transcends political affiliation, the Obama administration “has done more than any before to move Alzheimer's forward." He also thanked advocates for all they've contributed to the National Alzheimer's Plan Act (NAPA) process from creation to implementation.

“You and your colleagues made NAPA happen," Johns said. “The energy in this room to change things is just palpable. It energizes me, and I can tell it energizes you. We need that energy to move things forward."

Johns introduced former U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.), who announced his Alzheimer's diagnosis in February. Before introducing Secretary Sebelius, Moore, who also spoke at the Rally to Remember, once again expressed his gratitude for advocates and their work in fighting Alzheimer's: “I can't tell you how much I appreciate what you do. I thank you all for being here."

In her first public remarks on the administration's Alzheimer's efforts since the announcement of additional federal resources in February, Sebelius talked about how Alzheimer's was once a disease that existed “in the shadows" due to a number of factors, including memory loss being solely associated with aging and how health care providers either didn't know enough about Alzheimer's or shied from giving a diagnosis because they thought it would be too devastating for families. She credited the Association and its advocates for changing the perception of the disease.

“You've changed the face of Alzheimer's," she said. “You've restored the dignity people with the disease thought they lost. You've made it possible for individuals and families to speak out and ask for help. In the process, you've made it impossible for political figures to ignore the disease."

Congress unanimously passed NAPA in 2010, and President Obama signed it into law in early 2011. Secretary Sebelius is charged with overseeing the development and creation of the National Alzheimer's Plan, expected to be released on May 10. “This isn't just another strategy to be published and sit on a shelf," she said. “We are committed to making this strategy a living, breathing action plan that will help us meet our goal to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer's by 2025."

According to Sebelius, the National Alzheimer's Plan will include concrete steps to improve education and outreach to the public and to the health care community; expand support for people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers; and provide" a clearer picture" of how the disease impacts people with the disease, their families and the health care system. She said the plan will be updated as necessary, and that the administration is committed to getting results.

“And we want to be held accountable," she added.

In conjunction with the development of the national plan, Sebelius said $26 million will be dedicated to a targeted awareness campaign, immediate additional support for caregivers and a retraining program for health care professionals on Alzheimer's and dementia. The time to fight Alzheimer's is not after the next budget or after the next election, Sebelius said, but right now.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but working together, we found the resources, the energy and the focus to bring Alzheimer's out of the shadows," Sebelius said. “The Obama administration wants to be a good partner, and we're in it for the long haul."

A Town Hall with members of the Alzheimer's Advisory Council followed Sebelius' remarks. The council, which includes Johns, is charged with providing recommendations to the Sebelius and to Congress to inform the development of the National Alzheimer's Plan.

Jennifer Manley, Ph.D., associate professor, Columbia University Medical Center, addressed some of the strategies the council has considered when providing input on the National Alzheimer's Plan. One is to engage higher-risk communities that are under-represented in research studies; another is to include caregivers in research to better understand the effects of caregiving on individuals and on society at large.

David Hoffman, M.Ed., State of New York Department of Health, echoed Manley in discussing the importance of acknowledging the demonstrated toll caregiving often takes: “A system should be in place for caregivers to maintain their own health while caring for a loved one."

Laurel Coleman, M.D., a geriatrician, stressed the notion of a plan that isn't “one size fits all."

“Someone's needs are different from one stage of the disease to another," she said. "There's a lot we can do to make a big difference. Let's do it in a way that makes sense."

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