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David Hyde Pierce: U.S. needs caregiver support yardstick

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The National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease can and should do more to promote improvements in support for the families coping with dementia, according to David Hyde Pierce.

Pierce, who is best known as the actor who played Dr. Niles Crane on the television show Frasier, testified about caregiver support policy last week in Washington at a hearing organized by the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

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Congress created an Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care and Services, and required the council to develop a National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, in the hope of pushing the country to find a way to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging organized the hearing to look at how close the country is to meeting that goal.

Dr. Ronald Petersen, an Alzheimer’s researcher, testified that researchers have more funding and are making significant progress. Researchers are now developing biomarkers that can show how well various treatment strategies are working, and that should help speed up progress, Petersen said. But he said researchers still need more funding.

Pierce, who said that his grandfather died of Alzheimer’s and this father may have had vascular dementia when he died, has been active in Alzheimer’s Association and has served on the Alzheimer’s advisory council. He praised Congress for increasing dementia research funding, and he said he was pleased to see the advisory council set quantifiable Alzheimer’s research milestones.

“We need an equally strong investment in caring for those living with this disease today,” Pierce said.

The Alzheimer’s plan should include quantifiable metrics, or yardsticks, that the country can use to see how well it’s doing at improving support for the people with dementia and the family members trying to help them, Pierce said.

Pierce gave access to basic care planning for people with a new dementia diagnosis as an example of an easy-to-quantify caregiver support indicator.

Today, Pierce said, doctors often tell patients that they have dementia and simply send them into the world to go figure the rest out on their own.

The Health Outcomes, Planning and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer’s Act bill, which also is supported by the Alzheimer’s Association, would create a Medicare post-Alzheimer’s diagnosis care planning benefit, and measuring how many Medicare enrollees with Alzheimer’s use that benefit might be a way to start measuring the adequacy of U.S. caregiver support, Pierce said.

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