Senate Passes Bill Unanimously to Help Families Struggling with Alzheimer’s


Bill supports diagnosis and support for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia, the next big public health crisis

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed a bill today to help the hundreds of thousands of individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia and their families in Massachusetts.

There are more than 130,000 people in our state with Alzheimer’s disease supported by 337,000 family caregivers, and that number is growing. Alzheimer’s is a true public health crisis; it has become increasingly common and is the most expensive disease in America yet Massachusetts struggles to properly diagnose and inform patients that they have the debilitating disease. Fewer than 50% of patients with Alzheimer’s are properly diagnosed, and fewer than half of those are properly informed of their diagnosis. Further compounding the problem is the projected rise in the incidence of Alzheimer’s; nearly 150,000 people will have the disease by 2025 in Massachusetts alone.

An Act relative to Alzheimer’s and related dementias in the Commonwealth was sponsored by Senator Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover), Senate chair of the Committee on Elder Affairs, and is the result of collaboration between Elder Affairs and the Joint Committee on Public Health, chaired by Senator Jason Lewis. The bill supports improving diagnosis, treatment, and care for individuals with Alzheimer’s, and focuses on providing essential information to patients and their families about understanding an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, creating and coordinating a care plan, and accessing both medical and non-medical treatments critically necessary to living with the disease.

“Almost everyone we meet these days has a personal connection to Alzheimer’s disease. Thousands of seniors, and younger adults, suffer from the disease across our Commonwealth. For me, it was my mom who lived with us at my house for the last several years of her life. My experience navigating her diagnosis and care taught me firsthand just how difficult this disease can be for even the most informed families,” said L’Italien, who spoke on the Senate floor next to a picture of her late mother, Claire Sullivan L’Italien, who died from Alzheimer’s last April. “This bill, the result of many months of collaboration among legislators, hospitals, advocates, and doctors, will make a huge difference in the lives of the increasing number of families struggling to understand life with dementia. Massachusetts can yet again be a proactive health care leader.”

“Developing Alzheimer’s is one of our worst fears for ourselves or a loved one,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “This disease takes a devastating toll on families, and treatment of Alzheimer’s is a huge and costly burden on our healthcare system. This far reaching legislation will dramatically improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care for individuals and families in Massachusetts who are struggling with Alzheimer’s and related dementias.”

“The proliferation of Alzheimer’s and dementia is a public health crisis and must be treated as such. This legislation is a massive help to families whose relatives suffer from Alzheimer’s, and I am tremendously grateful for Senator L’Italien and Senator Lewis for their hard work and dedication on this issue,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler.

“This important legislation acknowledges that Alzheimer’s and other dementia affects not just individuals, but communities and families,” said Senator Karen E. Spilka, Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“Alzheimer’s is the single largest unaddressed public health threat in the 21st century and we remain on the front lines of this crisis every day here in the Commonwealth,” said Daniel Zotos, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy of the Alzheimer’s Association, Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter. “This legislation follows in the tradition of Massachusetts being a national leader in health care and we commend the Legislature for ensuring everyone impacted by Alzheimer’s gets the quality care and support they deserve. No other state in the country has passed such a comprehensive bill to address this epidemic.”

The legislation passed in the Senate today also helps patients and their families receive better, more comprehensive care. Caregiving for people with Alzheimer’s is an energy- and time-intensive endeavor and when medical emergencies occur for unrelated conditions, people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias often fare poorly in the acute care setting. This bill helps ensure that caseworkers, medical providers and hospital administrators and staff better understand Alzheimer’s disease so that they can provide the best treatment possible for patients and clients who are brought to them.

An Act relative to Alzheimer’s and related dementias in the Commonwealth supports individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia and their families by…

  • Tasking the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to develop and assess all state programs that address Alzheimer’s and create recommendations and implementation steps to address issues related to Alzheimer’s
  • Creating an advisory council for Alzheimer’s disease research & treatment
  • Requiring that all protective service caseworkers receive training on recognizing signs & symptoms of Alzheimer’s
  • Requiring that all doctors, physician’s assistants, and nurses who serve adult populations complete a one-time course of training on diagnosis, treatment and care of people with Alzheimer’s
  • Requiring physicians to report an initial diagnosis of Alzheimer’s to a member of a patient’s family (or a personal representative) and provide the family with information about understanding the diagnosis, creating care plans, and accessing medical and non-medical treatment options
  • Requiring hospitals to create and implement an operational plan for the recognition of patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia and treatment for those patients.

“The Alzheimer’s Association would like to recognize Senate President Harriette Chandler and Senator Karen Spilka for their leadership and Senators L’Italien, Lewis, Jehlen, Moore and Rush, whose original pieces of legislation provided the foundation for the comprehensive legislation to help those with Alzheimer’s. Because of this legislation, families impacted by Alzheimer’s and dementia and our health care system will be much better prepared in fighting this epidemic,” continued Zotos.

The bill, engrossed by the House earlier this year, now moves back to the House for enactment.