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House Passes Rep. Waters' Legislation to Help Alzheimer's Patients

July 21, 2009
Press Release

Last night, the House of Representatives passed a bill introduced by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) to assist people with Alzheimer's disease.  H.R. 6503 reauthorizes, updates and expands the Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patient Alert Program, a Department of Justice program which helps local communities and law enforcement quickly identify persons with Alzheimer's disease who wander or are missing and reunite them with their families.

"Reauthorizing and improving the effective Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patient Alert Program will provide vital assistance to vulnerable Alzheimer's patients and their families.  The program is also a valuable resource for first responders, and by saving valuable time it enables law enforcement officers to focus on other security concerns in our communities," Congresswoman Waters said. 

Since it was established more than 10 years ago, the Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patient Alert Program, 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.  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 the program in 2007.  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.

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. 

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. 

H.R. 6503 authorizes up to $5 million per year in appropriations for fiscal years 2009 through 2015, a modest increase over the current appropriation of $1 million in fiscal year 2008.

The bill also expands the program so as to allow the Department of Justice to award multiple competitive grants to nonprofit organizations.  Preference would be given to national nonprofit organizations with a direct link to patients, and families of patients, with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. In addition, the bill specifies that the program will be operated under the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance.  Currently, the program is operated under the Office of Juvenile Justice, which is obviously not the most appropriate agency for a program serving the elderly.

HR 6503 has 25 bipartisan cosponsors, including the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Alzheimer's Task Force, Congressmen Edward Markey and Christopher Smith.  The bill is also supported by the Alzheimer's Foundation of America and Project Lifesaver.  Furthermore, on May 14th, a diverse group of over 85 national, state and local organizations sent a letter to members of the House Judiciary Committee supporting this approach to the reauthorization of the Missing Alzheimer's Patient Program.