All About the New Law to Combat Alzheimer’s

The bipartisan BOLD Act will create a national public health infrastructure

(This piece was originally published by the Association of Health Care Journalists and is being republished with permission.)

Despite the partial government shutdown, some wheels in Congress keep turning. Among them, the bipartisan BOLD Act (Building Our Largest Dementia Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s) was signed into law on December 31.

The BOLD Act authorizes $100 million over five years to develop a public health approach for improving prevention, treatment and care for Alzheimer’s patients by creating a national public health infrastructure to combat the disease and preserve brain health.

It establishes Alzheimer’s Centers of Excellence with a focus on evidence-based interventions in Alzheimer’s disease. It also funds state and local public health departments to promote cognitive health, reduce risk, improve early detection and diagnosis and better meet the needs of caregivers. The initiative includes provisions for educating public health officials, health professionals and the public on current Alzheimer’s and dementia information and research, including cognitive decline, brain health and health disparities.

The BOLD Act also will increase collection, analysis and timely reporting of data on cognitive decline and caregiving to inform future public health actions, according to the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM), the advocacy arm of the Alzheimer’s Association.

BOLD Act Addresses Consequences of Alzheimer’s

“Too often, Alzheimer’s and other dementias are viewed just as an aging issue, ignoring the public health consequences of a fatal disease that more than 5 million Americans are living with,” said Harry Johns, chief executive of the association and AIM. “The BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act will ensure communities across the country have access to resources to promote effective Alzheimer’s interventions and better cognitive health that can lead to improved health outcomes.”

The new law instructs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify and translate promising research findings into evidence-based programs for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and their caregivers. It also directs the agency to expand activities through public-private partnerships with state public health departments, Native American tribes and other entities “to promote cognitive functioning, address cognitive impairment and unique aspects of Alzheimer’s disease, and help meet the needs of caregivers.”

Institutions, researchers and companies wishing to participate in the initiative must show how they will address evidence-based practice. This could include training state, local and tribal public health officials, supporting early detection and diagnosis, reducing the risk of potentially avoidable hospitalizations for people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias, reducing the risk of cognitive decline or impairment, supporting caregivers and supporting care planning and management. Addressing rural and underserved populations and health disparities are key focal points.

‘Translate Research Into Practice’

“After decades of increasing investments in biomedical research for Alzheimer’s, we are ready for the next step: to translate research into practice,” said co-sponsor Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) in a statement. “The BOLD Act takes a multi-pronged public health approach that will create a modern infrastructure for the prevention, treatment and care of Alzheimer’s and related dementias. BOLD brings us to the brink of a brighter day for Alzheimer’s.”

In addition to Collins, the law’s co-authors include Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). It was introduced in the House by Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). It passed the Senate unanimously and through the House 361-3.

“Alzheimer’s prevention is crucial to combating this debilitating disease,” said Cortez Masto. “The number of Americans afflicted with this illness is growing at a staggering pace, and without intervention, as many as 16 million Americans could be living with the disease by 2050.”

Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in the country, with an estimated cost of $259 billion annually — including $175 billion in Medicare and Medicaid payments, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It is the nation’s sixth leading cause of death.

By Liz Seegert
New York-based journalist Liz Seegert has spent more than 30 years reporting and writing about health and general news topics for print, digital and broadcast media. Her primary beats currently include aging, boomers, social determinants of health and health policy. She is topic editor on aging for the Association of Health Care Journalists. Her work has appeared in numerous media outlets, including Consumer Reports, AARP.com, Medical Economics, The Los Angeles Times and The Hartford Courant.

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