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TN Lawmakers Consider Declaring Alzheimer's a Public Health Issue

There are more than 435,000 caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias in Tennessee. (Marianne/Flickr)
There are more than 435,000 caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias in Tennessee. (Marianne/Flickr)
April 4, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Thhe Tennessee General Assembly this week is expected to approve a resolution that would declare Alzheimer's disease and other related dementias a public health issue.

The state ranks seventh in the country for Alzheimer's deaths. While Alzheimer's has long been viewed as an aging issue, Rachel Blackhurst, director of public policy and advocacy for the Mid-South Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, said the impact of the resolution shouldn't be underestimated.

"When you move it into the public health sphere, that's when you can get a lot of messages," she said, "not only about possible preventive measures but you can have increased awareness on preventing hospitalizations and early detection."

In a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, almost 14 percent - or one in eight - Tennesseans age 45 or older report an increase in confusion or worsening memory loss. Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and there currently is no effective treatment or cure. Late last month, Congress approved the most funding ever for research into the illness, $414 million for the National Institutes of Health.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than 15 million caregivers nationwide have more than $10 billion in additional health-care costs because of caring for someone with the illness. Blackhurst said there are 120,000 Tennesseans with the disease, but 435,000 caregivers - which she said demonstrates its multiplying impact.

"It's not just a one-for-one impact," she said. "Whole families are having to sacrifice their time and energy and resources to care for one person."

The New England Journal of Medicine has called Alzheimer's the most expensive disease in America, costing the country $259 billion last year alone. The Alzheimer's Association Mid-South Chapter helped the Tennessee Department of Health get a federal grant to begin more data collection here to determine the impact of the illness on people and their caregivers.

A state fact sheet is online at alz.org.

Stephanie Carson/Veronica Carter, Public News Service - TN