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Moving dementia care forward

September 2, 2018

People with Alzheimer’s and other dementias rely heavily on palliative and hospice care as they near the end of life. And because this disease is not preventable, treatable or curable, establishing a well-trained palliative care workforce along with other purposeful programs to support these people and their families is vital. A bipartisan House responded to this growing need just days before the August recess in the form of a commendable vote.

The House of Representatives showed both compassion and leadership recently when members passed a bill that would improve the quality of life, control costs, and enhance patient and family satisfaction for those who are and will be affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementias. That bill is the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act. It presents a comprehensive framework of improvements and solutions across several key areas for better outcomes to exist. It would establish palliative care workforce training programs for doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Further, it would launch a national palliative care education and awareness campaign. Finally, it would enhance research in palliative care.

The bill’s passage is a great example of Congress working in a bipartisan fashion to address a truly nonpartisan issue. There are 435 members of Congress, of which 285 — Democrats and Republicans — signed on as co-sponsors to the bill. Among the co-sponsors were Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M. And as someone whose family has been affected by the terrible disease that is Alzheimer’s, I applaud these leaders for co-sponsoring this meaningful and important bill.

There are an estimated 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and that number will increase. Aging is the single biggest risk factor in developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. Alarmingly for New Mexico, our state is projected to be among the hardest hit. There are 39,000 people in our state diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but that number will grow 36 percent by 2025 based on a recent projection.

It’s wonderful news that Congress, especially the bill’s co-sponsors from our state, took a step in the right direction to address the public health crisis that is Alzheimer’s and dementia, but there’s still the Senate to consider it. I call on Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., to keep this bill moving forward.

Tommy Hernandez is the public policy director for the Alzheimer’s Association, New Mexico Chapter.

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