Senate Committee Turning Attention to Alzheimer’s Research and Caregiving

The U.S. Senate's special committee on aging is focusing its attention on the growing problem of Alzheimer's and other dementia and the impact on American families and finances.

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Senate Committee Turning Attention to Alzheimer’s Research and Caregiving
4 Min Read May 21st, 2021

The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging turned their attention to Alzheimer's research and caregiving needs for the more than 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease.

"More than 800,000 Americans, including adults with dementia, languish on waitlists for services like help with grocery shopping, bathing or housework, sometimes waiting for years on end," said U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. 

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

"An investment in home and community-based services is long overdue to help families who struggle day in and day out to care for their family members, friends, and neighbors," Senator Casey said in an opening statement.

11 Million Unpaid Caregivers Helping Loved Ones with Dementia

In 2020, roughly 11 million individuals provided unpaid care for a person with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia. Since health insurance, including Medicare and supplements, pay very little toward long-term health care, including dementia care, many families either pay for care services out of savings or their families must become caregivers. Caregiving is demanding physically and emotionally, and research shows the role adversely affects the caregiver's health.

Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), the committee's ranking member, called for the same type of "all hands-on approach" used in the COVID-19 crisis to research and develop the vaccines that are now being used worldwide. 

Massive Alzheimer’s Research Needed

Senator Scott referenced the vaccine develop which was considered as impossible to do. 

Sen Tim Scott (R-SC)

Sen Tim Scott (R-SC)

"If we have the same energy and synergy towards Alzheimer's, I believe we could have similar results in unbelievable time," Scott told the committee.

Mark A. Supiano, M.D., Professor, and Chief, Division of Geriatrics, University of Utah School of Medicine, told the committee that research is needed to identify cognitive resilience mechanisms, promote cultural awareness, and address the disproportionate impact of health disparities in developing cognitive impairment. 

"There is a pressing need to provide options so persons with dementia and their families and caregivers can access the right care, in the right setting, at the right time, said Supiano.

Dr. Supiano shared this graph on the progression of dementia leading to the need for long-term care services. While those with mild cognitive impairment can maintain fairly normal lifestyles, as the disease progresses the need for help with daily living activities becomes necessary.

Progression of Cognitive Impairment

Growing Number of People with Alzheimer’s Expected

More than 1 in 9 people aged 65 and older living in the United States now have Alzheimer's disease. By 2025 the number is expected to be 7.2 million. 

Jennifer Manly, Professor of Neuropsychology in Neurology at the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center and the Taub Institute for Research in Aging and Alzheimer's Disease at Columbia University, told the committee that by 2060, an estimated 13.8 million people will have Alzheimer's. 

She said Early Onset Alzheimer's disease, defined as the onset of symptoms before the age of 65, is less common, affecting about 4 – 5% of all people with Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer’s Impacting More Women and Minorities

Women and minorities have higher rates of the disease.

"A higher proportion of Black and Hispanic older adults live with Alzheimer's disease than white older adults. More women are affected by Alzheimer's disease than men because women live longer, and age is the primary risk factor for Alzheimer's. Of the approximately 6.2 million Americans aged 65 and older currently living with Alzheimer's, about 3.8 million are women. Women also represent approximately two-thirds of the dementia caregivers in the United States," Manley said in a statement to the committee.

Manley says that people who had fewer educational opportunities as children are at higher risk for Alzheimer's disease later in life. She also notes that Alzheimer's disease is underdiagnosed. Only half of the people who have Alzheimer's disease ever receive a formal diagnosis by a doctor. 

She also cites evidence that missed diagnoses of Alzheimer's, and other dementias are more common among Black and Hispanic older adults than among older whites.

Senator Scott repeated a statement frequently made by the Alzheimer's Association that the first survivor of Alzheimer's is living right now. However, it is already too late for many American families, as they deal with a crisis of caregiving right now.

Long-Term Care Insurance Will Pay for Dementia Care

There are limited federal and some state tax incentives available toward the purchase of Long-Term Care Insurance. In forty-five states, Partnership Long-Term Care Insurance is available, providing the policyholder with dollar-for-dollar asset protection. Even a small policy can shelter part of a family's assets.

However, Long-Term Care Insurance is medically underwritten and must be purchased when a person is in reasonably good health. Experts suggest purchasing coverage in your 40s or 50s when a person's health is still good, and premiums are lower. 

Those who are already suffering from some form of dementia hope for improvements in treatment and additional tax benefits for family caregivers.

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Editor's Note

Too many caregivers providing help for a person requiring long-term health care are not qualified to provide that help. Many of these caregivers are unpaid family members. Taking on a caregiver's role creates an additional burden on that person as it impacts their lifestyle, family, finances, and health. 

The role of being a family caregiver is physically and emotionally draining. These family members must juggle their careers, families, and caregiving responsibilities. However, unpaid caregivers are performing about 80 percent of the care provided at home. 

Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance offers guaranteed tax-free resources to pay for your choice of quality care, including in-home care. Thus, you have asset protection as you reduce the stress and anxiety otherwise placed on those you love.

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