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Landmark Alzheimer’s Bill Signed By Governor

Aug 18, 2018 09:10AM ● By Theresa Gilman

State Senator Barbara L'Italien

(Editor's Note: the following information was provided by the office of State Senator Barbara L’Italien.)

BOSTON, MA – Last week, State Senator Barbara L'Italien (D-Andover), State Representative Danielle Gregoire (D-Marlborough), and State Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) joined Governor Charlie Baker, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, and the Alzheimer's Association at a signing of new landmark legislation to help the thousands of Massachusetts individuals and their families who are suffering from Alzheimer’s. The bill was sponsored and successfully shepherded through the legislative process by L'Italien and Gregoire, co-chairs of the Elder Affairs committee, in concert with Lewis and Rep. Kate Hogan (D-Stow), co-chairs of the Public Health committee. 

While Alzheimer’s is becoming increasingly common, many still do not get properly diagnosed with this debilitating disease, and many of those who do are not properly informed of their diagnosis. Further compounding the problem is that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,  incidences of Alzheimer’s are expected to rise by 25% in Massachusetts over the next seven years. This comprehensive new law seeks to take a proactive approach to addressing this coming public health crisis.

An Act relative to Alzheimer’s and related dementias in the Commonwealth supports better diagnosis, treatment, and care. The new law puts a focus on providing patients and their families information to help them understand the diagnosis, create care plans, and access treatments necessary to navigating the disease.

“Almost everyone we meet these days has a personal connection to Alzheimer’s. Thousands of seniors and many younger adults suffer from the disease across our Commonwealth. For me it was my mom, who lived in our home with us for seven of the last ten years of her life as she struggled with Alzheimer’s. Navigating her diagnosis and care taught me just how difficult it can be even for the most informed families,” said L’Italien, whose late mother Claire Sullivan L’Italien died from Alzheimer’s last April. “This new law is a result of great collaboration among legislators, hospitals, advocates, and doctors and years of hard work. It will make a huge difference in the lives of the growing number of families struggling to understand and navigate life with dementia. Today, we are making Massachusetts a national leader for those families.”

“With these new provisions in place, Massachusetts will become the first state in the nation to develop a comprehensive approach to combating the public health crisis that is Alzheimer’s disease,” said Representative Danielle Gregoire, House chair of the Committee on Elder Affairs.

“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,” shared 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 Governor and Legislature for ensuring everyone impacted by Alzheimer's gets the quality care and support they deserve.”

Currently, less than half of patients who have Alzheimer’s are properly diagnosed and of those, less than 50% are properly informed of their diagnosis. (By contrast, 93% cancer patients are told of their diagnosis.) The law signed today seeks to remedy this, so individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s have the information they need to pursue treatment and lifestyle changes to help them live with the disease.

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.
    • There is protection built in for the doctors so that they cannot be civilly sued or criminally charged for speaking with a patient’s family about the diagnosis. This language is the result of a compromise between Mass Medical Association and the Alzheimer’s Association – indicating that everyone is on the same page in knowing how important it is to ensure that patients & their families know about their diagnosis and how to begin living with Alzheimer’s.
  • 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 Governor Baker for his continued leadership on this issue as well as Senator Barbara L’Italien and Representative Danielle Gregoire for their tireless efforts. 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. This is a very significant policy achievement and this landmark law will stand out as one of the most comprehensive dementia policies in the country,” continued Zotos.
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