FALMOUTH — The message from Maine’s senior U.S. senator was clear Tuesday morning: the state and the nation must do more for those with Alzheimer’s disease and the people who care for them.
Speaking at the Lunt Auditorium at 74 Lunt Road, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said while Alzheimer’s is “a devastating disease” for the patient, it is also harmful to family members who become caretakers.
“It’s impossible to talk about Alzheimer’s without talking about the caregivers,” Collins said.
She said the number of people with Alzheimer’s is “going to explode” as the nation gets older, unless more is done in the field of research and funding.
Collins earlier Tuesday toured the Stewart Adult Day Center, also at 74 Lunt Road. The center, a day facility for individuals with dementia, was opened by the Southern Maine Agency on Aging in October 2014. She applauded the work being done at the center as not only a benefit to those with diseases, but also as a resource for caregivers.
“What a difference it makes to be able to bring your loved ones to a place they can be entertained … and be able to give yourself a much-needed break,” Collins said.
Collins said memory-care centers can help keep dementia patients in their own homes and communities, and provide respite for their caregivers.
“It improves the quality of life for everyone,” she said.
Following her remarks, Collins said facilities like the Stewart Center are vital in Maine, which has the oldest median age in the nation.
“We are disproportionately affected by this disease that strikes our seniors,” Collins said.
Collins said she was amazed by the number of activities the Stewart Center offered. She said these types of facilities offer good ways to prevent people from becoming isolated which, she said, “exacerbates the illness.”
Collins, who chairs the Senate Aging Committee and co-chairs the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, during her remarks spoke about the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act, which was passed by the Senate last month. The act, which Collins introduced with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, calls for development of a national strategy to recognize and support more than 40 million family caregivers across the country.
Collins said the next step will be working hard to get RAISE through the House of Representatives, in order to create that national strategy.
“I’m convinced more respite centers are part of the answer,” Collins said.
Collins also spoke about the $2 billion funding increase Congress approved last year for the National Institutes of Health, including a $350 million increase for Alzheimer’s disease research. She said that brings total research funding for Alzheimer’s disease to $936 million.
In her remarks, she said this increase was “long overdue,” but also said Alzheimer’s is the most costly disease to pay for.
She said Alzheimer’s is the only disease without an effective means of treatment or cure, and that it would bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid “unless we come up with better means of prevention or cure.”
Because NIH now has the funding, Collins said, it can solicit grant applications it did not have the funding to seek in years past. She said there is a lot of promising research, and the increased funding will allow for more study and investing in potential cures through clinical trials and new pharmaceuticals.
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