HHS Emphasizes Healthy Aging to Delay Onset of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias

dementiaImage by Gerd Altmann

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra this week announced the release of the annual update to the Department’s National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, which for the first time includes a new goal focused on work being done to promote healthy aging and reduce the risks that may contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Although these diseases cannot yet be prevented, there is growing evidence that addressing certain risk factors for dementia, such as high blood pressure, physical inactivity, and chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and depression, may lower the chances of developing the disease or delay its onset.

An estimated 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease or a related type of dementia. That number is expected to more than double by 2060 due to the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, making dementia a major public health issue as well as a challenge for the health care system and the economy. Dementia also can be incredibly difficult for the families of people with the disease. In addition to seeing their loved one struggle with the disease, family members and friends provide the majority of care for people with dementia living in the community. Further, the chance of developing dementia is not equal—Black and Latino Americans are more likely to develop the condition, as are women, and people with certain types of chronic diseases, like high blood pressure, diabetes or depression.

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“Imagine how difficult it is for so many families who have a hard time just managing their own affairs, let alone take on the responsibility for an adult to provide their care,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Everyone should have that opportunity to care for a loved one. I’m grateful I could be there for family members but not everyone is so fortunate. We have to make this easier.”

Under the plan’s new goal, the federal government will accelerate research on risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and strengthen the infrastructure that is necessary to rapidly translate and disseminate information about risk factors, interventions to reduce the burden of risk factors, and related health promotion activities to health care providers, community-based providers, caregivers, and public health networks.

“We believe this new goal is an important step toward improving health for older Americans and, hopefully, reducing their future risk of dementia. In the meantime, HHS is committed to strengthening care for all people with dementia, helping to improve the quality of their lives, and helping to support and lessen the strain on their caregivers,” stated Dr. Rebecca Haffajee, HHS Acting Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

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In addition to this year’s added goal on healthy aging and risk reduction, the plan has five other existing ambitious goals to:

  • Prevent and Effectively Treat Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias by 2025
  • Enhance Care Quality and Efficiency
  • Expand Supports for People with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias and Their Families
  • Enhance Public Awareness and Engagement
  • Improve Data to Track Progress

“Scientists have identified action steps we can take to maintain our health and function as we get older — from improving our diet and levels of physical activity to getting health screenings and managing risk factors for disease. These approaches may influence multiple health concerns, including risk for Alzheimer’s and related dementias, and we remain committed to learning more through research discovery,” noted Dr. Richard Hodes, Director, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health.

The National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which was signed into law in 2011, established the Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care, and Services and charged the HHS Secretary with creating and annually updating a National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease. The plan is developed with input from agencies across HHS and other federal departments as well as recommendations from the Advisory Council, whose membership includes healthcare providers, researchers, caregivers, individuals living with dementia, state representatives, and advocates.

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“Promoting healthy aging is at the core of our mission. In addition to reducing the risk of dementia, addressing chronic conditions, staying active, and taking other steps to protect our health are the most important things we can do to maintain our ability to age in place,” commented Alison Barkoff, Principal Deputy Administrator, Administration for Community Living. “We are excited to see healthy aging join the plan’s other crucial goals, including improving support for people with dementia and their families and caregivers.”

Visit Alzheimers.gov for information about ongoing research and the many federal resources available to educate and support people whose lives are touched by these devastating diseases.

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