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TN Lawmakers Consider an Alzheimer's Advisory Council

The Alzheimer's Association of Tennessee says Alzheimer's disease is the only official cause of death without dedicated research funds for a cure. (phiasinclair/Twenty20)
The Alzheimer's Association of Tennessee says Alzheimer's disease is the only official cause of death without dedicated research funds for a cure. (phiasinclair/Twenty20)
March 8, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - More than 120,000 Tennesseans are living with Alzheimer's disease, and this week, state lawmakers are considering bills to create an advisory council to address the crisis.

AARP Tennessee and the Alzheimer's Association back the idea of a state council to examine the industries, services and resources available to seniors and families living with memory-loss disorders. Last year, Alzheimer's care and treatment cost Tennessee close to $1 billion, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Rachel Blackhurst, director of public policy and advocacy at the Alzheimer's Association of Tennessee, said the bills have garnered broad support.

"We actually have quite a bit of support for these bills in the Legislature," she said. "Some individual legislators have been impacted, with family members suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and they understand this issue. We don't have to tell them what's important. They know the financial and emotional strain that Alzheimer's has on families."

Tennessee has the fourth-highest Alzheimer's death rate in the nation, Blackhurst said.

Senate Bill 28 is being carried by Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City. Its companion bill, House Bill 37, is sponsored by Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin.

The bills would charge the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability with priorities such as increasing early detection and diagnosis of memory-care issues, educating health-care providers and monitoring state agencies. Blackhurst said the goal is to help coordinate efforts between advocacy groups and government agencies.

"In the past, it's been individual advocacy groups trying to get the Legislature and the governor to take Alzheimers seriously," she said. "With the establishment of an advisory council within the state government, they will really become this 'official voice' of Alzheimer's disease."

A few months ago, the Trump administration signed legislation to provide cooperative funding to states to aid in the Alzheimer's public-health crisis. This is the first step for Tennessee to establish an infrastructure in order to be eligible for those funds.

The text of SB 28 is online here, and the text of HB 37 is here.

Antionette Kerr, Public News Service - TN