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Senate Committee Passes Congresswoman Waters' Legislation to Help Alzheimer's Patients

June 24, 2010
Press Release

The Senate Judiciary Committee today passed a bill introduced by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) to assist people with Alzheimer's disease.  H.R. 908 reauthorizes, updates and expands the Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patient Alert Program, a Department of Justice program that helps local communities and law enforcement quickly identify persons with Alzheimer's disease who wander away or are missing and reunite them with their families.  H.R. 908 was passed by the Committee on a vote of 14 to 5.  The bill now awaits consideration on the floor of the Senate. 

"I am pleased that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to provide vital assistance to vulnerable Alzheimer's patients and their families by reauthorizing and improving the effective Missing Alzheimer's Disease Patient Alert Program.  In addition to helping patients and their families, the program is an important resource for first responders, and it enables law enforcement officers to save valuable time so they can focus on other security concerns in our communities.  We are one step closer to enacting this into law, and now I hope the full Senate will schedule a vote to continue and improve this important program" Congresswoman Waters said. 

Alzheimer's disease currently affects an estimated 5 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that number will multiply in the coming decades as our population ages.  The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 7.7 million Americans will have Alzheimer's by the year 2030, and 11 to 16 million Americans will have the disease by the year 2050.

One great risk for Alzheimer's patients is wandering away from their homes and caregivers.  Wanderers are vulnerable to dehydration, weather conditions, traffic hazards, and individuals who prey on those who are defenseless.  When wanderers are found and reported to local law enforcement officials, they often cannot remember who they are or where they live.

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.  In 2008 alone, this registry enrolled 5,086 individuals and provided assistance to 715 people. 

In fiscal year 2009, the Department of Justice began to consider technology-based options to address wandering in addition to the national registry.  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 days to minutes. 

H.R. 908 requires the Department of Justice to operate the program as a competitive grant program and to give preference to national nonprofit organizations with a direct link to patients, and families of patients, with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.  The bill authorizes up to $5 million per year in appropriations for Fiscal Years 2010 through 2016, an increase over the $2 million appropriation in Fiscal Year 2009.

H.R. 908 has been endorsed by more than 175 national, state and local organizations and public safety agencies, including the Alzheimer's Association and the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.  It has 23 bipartisan cosponsors in the House of Representatives, including the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Alzheimer's Task Force, Congressman Edward Markey and Congressman Christopher Smith.  It was passed by the House of Representatives without opposition on February 10, 2009, shortly after its introduction. 

Congresswoman Waters has also introduced H.R. 4123, the Alzheimer's Treatment and Caregiver Support Act.  This bill would authorize grants to improve treatment for Alzheimer's patients and expand training and support services for their families and caregivers.  This bill has 78 bipartisan cosponsors and is supported by nearly 100 national, state and local organizations.