It is time we change our thinking on Alzheimer’s disease. Too often Alzheimer’s is treated as an aging issue, but similar to other diseases, Alzheimer’s has a broad impact on communities.

As such it is more than just a health problem, but rather because the burden is large; the impact is major; and there are ways to intervene — Alzheimer’s is a public health crisis.

The burden is large and growing. Today, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. In Texas alone, there are roughly 360,000 people living with Alzheimer’s and thousands of others caring for them each day.

The most expensive disease in the country, in 2017 the cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s will be $259 billion, and the costs are expected to rise. By 2050, direct annual costs are expected to rise to $1.1 trillion.

The impact of Alzheimer’s disease is undeniable. Medicare and Medicaid bear two-thirds of the health and long-term care costs of those living with Alzheimer’s. In 2017 alone, Medicare and Medicaid will spend $175 billion caring for individuals living with Alzheimer’s with the Texas share of Medicaid costs reaching $2.493 billion dollars.

Now, Congress has a chance to take decisive action by passing the Building Our Largest Dementia (BOLD) Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act (S. 2076/H.R. 4256).

Public health works on a population level to protect and improve the health and safety of an entire community or group of people. By working with diverse communities, public health expands the reach and impact of health care efforts. Passing the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act would multiply our efforts to care for those living with the disease, improve care quality, provide enhanced support for caregivers and allow us to better understand the disease.

Specifically, the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act would establish Alzheimer’s Centers of Excellence around the country to expand and promote innovative and effective Alzheimer’s interventions. It would also provide funding to state, local and tribal public health departments to implement the Public Health Road Map and to promote cognitive health, risk reduction, early detection and diagnosis, and the needs of caregivers.

Public health officials can use the traditional tools and techniques of public health to improve the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s and to reduce the costs associated with it.

The BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act would also increase collection, analysis and timely reporting of data on cognitive decline and caregiving. This data is critical to identifying opportunities for public health interventions, helping stakeholders track progress in the public health response, and enabling state and federal policymakers to make informed decisions when developing plans and policies.

Please join me in asking U.S. Rep. Randy Weber to support the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act today.

The Houston/Galveston area is not immune to this disease and support from our elected leaders such as Congressman Weber will go a long way to advancing the goal of the Alzheimer’s Association to finally rid our country of this dreaded disease.

John Harris is the director of federal public policy for the Houston and Southeast Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

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