DeSantis touts budget increases, signs Alzheimer’s education bill

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks before signing Alzheimer's education bill. (WJXT)

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Thursday that will require the Florida Department of Health to improve education and community outreach programs related to Alzheimer’s and dementia-related disorders.

The Alzheimer’s Association said the disease is a critical issue in Florida, which has the second-highest prevalence in the country. More than 580,000 are living with the disease and that number is projected to increase to 720,000 by 2025, the association said.

The Ramping up Education of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia for You (READY) Act, SB 806, requires the state health department to use existing, relevant public health and community outreach programs to educate health care providers on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia-related disorders.

The Alzheimer’s Association advocated for the creation and passage of the bill. Volunteer and advocate Christine Burger of Palm Beach County said the new act could be lifesaving for those impacted by Alzheimer’s.

“My family believed my dad was suffering from some form of memory loss. For far too long we were told it was a form of aging, until he unknowingly caused a serious car accident that almost killed our mom,” Burger said. “Shortly after, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  Imagine how this bill will increase the ability to assess and diagnose in the early stages. The READY Act is a blessing to the residents of Florida.”

Awareness information that will be made available to health care practitioners through the bill includes the importance of early detection and timely diagnosis of cognitive impairment through assessment tools. It also addresses continuing care through the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit for cognitive health, usage of the Medicare care planning billing code and understanding of lifestyle interventions to reduce cognitive decline.

The bill encourages health care practitioners to discuss the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia with patients over the age of 60.

A recent study found that 94% of primary care physicians stated it is important to assess all patients at high risk for cognitive impairment, yet fewer than half (47%) say it is in their standard protocol to do so.

“The Florida chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association are proud to support this legislation for the betterment of all Floridians,” said Angela McAuley, regional leader for the Florida chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association. “We know primary health care practitioners are the first point of contact when someone is concerned about health issues for themselves or a loved one. This bill will encourage early diagnosis, a critical step to provide the best quality of life possible for someone impacted by the disease.”

During a news conference where he signed the bill, DeSantis also touted the record funding included in the state budget for Alzheimer’s and dementia care, marking a nearly 60% increase in funding since he took office in 2019.

The 2022-23 budget includes $52.3 million for the Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative Program, an increase of $12 million over the previous year. Additionally, $91.7 million is included for the Community Care for the Elderly Program, an increase of $9 million over the previous year. This program assists functionally impaired seniors to remain in the least restrictive, most suitable environment for their needs.

Florida has also established the Florida Alzheimer’s Center of Excellence (FACE), a program that focuses on enhancing the infrastructure available to support impacted seniors, families and caregivers. FACE includes innovative partnerships like the one between INSIGHTEC and a consortium of Florida universities that identify patients for the Blood Brain Barrier clinical trials for more effective treatment of Alzheimer’s.