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What it does 

S 311, the Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Act, authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to make grants to health care providers to expand training and support services for families and caregivers of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. This bill modifies the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 201 et seq.) and particularly 42 U.S.C. 254b et seq.

Health care providers who receive a grant under the Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Act must agree to:

  1. Employ a comprehensive treatment approach that integrates patient care with training and support services for the families and caregivers;
  2. Utilize the grant to provide services in the languages most appropriate for, and with consideration for the cultural backgrounds of, the individuals for whom they are provided; and
  3. Provide outreach activities to inform the public on Alzheimer’s disease, related dementias, and the services that the program makes available.

Grants provided under the Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Act are available to both public and non-profit private health care providers who:

  • Submit an application to HHS; and
  • Are one of the following:
    1. Health care organization;
    2. Community health center;
    3. Nursing home;
    4. Senior center;
    5. Area agency on aging;
    6. Community-based organization;
    7. Organization providing support services for families and caregivers of patients with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia; or
    8. State, local, or tribal public health or social service agency.

The bill authorizes funds to be appropriated for these grants for fiscal years 2018 through 2023. No less than 10% of each fiscal year’s funds will be reserved for awards to eligible healthcare providers who primarily serve medically underserved communities. To ensure that women, minorities, and medically underserved communities benefit from these grants, HHS will coordinate with the Office on Women’s Health and the Office of Minority Health.

Relevant Science 

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that impairs memory and thinking skills over time. It is a form of irreversible dementia that progresses through a series of predictable stages. An individual with a mild form of Alzheimer’s disease may experience slight cognitive impairment that results in problems such as getting lost, losing or misplacing items, repeating questions, and personality and behavioral changes. When the disease progresses into its most severe form, an individual will often be unable to communicate, control their bowels and bladder, experience difficulty swallowing, and be confined to a bed as their body shuts down.

Scientists are still working to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. While genetic mutation is generally the cause of early-onset Alzheimer’s, late-onset Alzheimer’s likely arises from a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that produce changes in the brain. Throughout the brain of an individual with Alzheimer’s disease there are abnormal deposits of proteins that form amyloid plaques and tau tangles. Over time, these abnormal changes cause neurons in the brain to stop functioning and die.

Though Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, other related dementias produce similarly devastating results.

Alzheimer’s disease has a significant impact on the United States, with an estimated 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s in 2017. Because Alzheimer’s disease impairs a person’s ability to perform daily tasks, it requires significant time and resources to care for an individual with Alzheimer’s disease. This is amplified by the fact that Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disorder that can progress for up to 20 years before death. In 2016, almost 16 million caregivers provided over 18 billion hours of unpaid assistance to those with Alzheimer’s disease. Those contributions were valued at $230.1 billion. The strain of being a caregiver for a person with dementia drastically increases reports of emotional, financial, and physical difficulties.

Background 

HHS estimates that it spent $638 million on Alzheimer’s research in fiscal year 2016, with money going toward basic and translational research. The NIH also funds Alzheimer’s research via the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative (SciPol brief available). These monies are directed toward scientific research, not necessarily support for families and caregivers.

Endorsements & Opposition 

At present, there have not been any publicly reported endorsements of or opposition to this bill. However, a previous iteration of the bill, S 3113 (114th Congress), received letters of endorsement from both the Alzheimer’s Association and the LEAD (Leaders Engaged on Alzheimer’s Disease) Coalition.

Status 

S 311 was introduced in the Senate on February 6, 2017, and was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Sponsors 

Sponsor: Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Cosponsor: Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)

Primary Author 
Kelly Todd, JD/MA Candidate
Editor(s) 
Karina Moy, JD Candidate; Andrew Pericak, MEM
Citation 

Duke SciPol, “Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Act (S 311, 115th Congress)” available at http://scipol.duke.edu/content/alzheimers-caregiver-support-act-s-311-115th-congress (04/11/2017).

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