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House Judiciary Committee Approves Rep. Waters' Legislation to Help Alzheimer's Patients

July 21, 2009
Press Release

The House Judiciary Committee today approved H.R. 6503, a bill introduced by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) to assist people with Alzheimer's disease who wander away and to ensure their safe return to their families. 

H.R. 6503 reauthorizes, updates and expands the Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patient Alert Program. This Department of Justice program helps local communities quickly identify persons with Alzheimer's disease who wander or are missing and reunite them with their families. H.R. 6503 has over 20 bipartisan cosponsors and is supported by the Alzheimer's Foundation of America and Project Lifesaver.

"I am pleased that my bill has been approved by the Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support.   Reauthorizing and improving this already highly effective program is important so that the vulnerable population of Alzheimer's patients have vital assistance if they wander away from home," Congresswoman Waters said. 

An estimated 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, including one in eight Americans over 65 and nearly half of Americans over 85.  Sixty percent of Alzheimer's patients are likely to wander from their homes.  Wanderers are vulnerable to dehydration, weather conditions, traffic hazards, and individuals who prey on those who are defenseless. Up to 50 percent of wandering Alzheimer's patients will become seriously injured or die if they are not found within 24 hours of their departure from home.

The Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patient Alert Program, established more than 10 years ago,  has funded a national registry of more than 172,000 individuals at risk of wandering and has reunited over 12,000 wanderers with their families.  This national registry has been run by the Alzheimer's Association and is known as Safe Return, an appropriate name considering that the program has a 98% success rate in recovering enrollees who are reported missing and 88% of registrants who wander are found within the first four hours of being reported missing.  A total of 1,288 wandering incidents were reported to Safe Return in 2007. 

Congresswoman Waters wants the Safe Return program to continue to receive adequate funding to meet the needs of a growing Alzheimer's population while allowing funding for other programs such as those that employ advanced technologies to address wandering.  For example, personalized wristbands that emit a tracking signal can be used to locate wanderers.  These wristbands, when combined with specially trained search and rescue teams, can reduce search times from hours and days to minutes. 

The bill approved by the Judiciary Committee would authorize up to $5 million per year in appropriations for Fiscal Years 2009 through 2015 and would allow the Department of Justice to award multiple competitive grants to nonprofit organizations.  Preference would be given to national nonprofit organizations that have a direct link to patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias and their families.

Congress originally authorized $900,000 in appropriations for the Missing Alzheimer's Patient Alert Program for three years (1996-1998) but never reauthorized or updated the program.  Since then, the program has continued to receive funding on a year-to-year basis, but funding has remained virtually flat since its inception.  In June of 2006, Congresswoman Waters worked with colleagues to increase the funding to $1 million in fiscal year 2007.  The program received the same amount in fiscal year 2008. 

Earlier this year, Congresswoman Waters sent a letter to leaders of the Appropriations Committee requesting $2 million in funding for the Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patient Alert Program in fiscal year 2009 and recommending that the program be expanded to allow funding for technology-based options in addition to the national registry.  Her letter was supported by the Alzheimer's Association and the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, and it was signed by a bipartisan group of 32 Members of Congress.