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In the early 20th century, a woman was admitted into a medical asylum in Germany.

She couldn’t remember some of the most basic facts about her life. The doctor assigned to her, Doctor Alzheimer, was perplexed. He didn’t know how to treat her memory loss and disorientation. Sadly, when his patient passed away a few years later, Doctor Alzheimer performed an autopsy. He noticed obscure plaques and tangles within her brain – today it’s known as the first reported case of Alzheimer’s disease.

Our country has made medical breakthrough achievements in the century that has followed. We have developed vital antibiotics and vaccines, cancer treatments, and cures that have saved lives around the world. We can treat diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia that claimed nearly half of all deaths 100 years ago.

Unfortunately, we have not kept the same progress in our goal of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.8 million Americans are living with the disease. If this pace continues, this number is projected to reach as many as 14 million in 2050. In Nebraska, there are nearly 34,000 people over the age of 65 who have been diagnosed with the disease.

Alzheimer’s remains one of the most difficult medical and social challenges of our time. Thankfully, Nebraskans are doing everything they can to raise awareness.

In April, I met with members of the Alzheimer’s Association from Nebraska in my Washington, D.C. office. I had the pleasure of visiting with a group of three Omaha natives – Sharon Stephens, Terry Streetman, and Alison Griffin-Hunter. Their personal stories were moving, and they described in detail how this insidious disease affects them and their families. During our meeting, we discussed specific ways the federal government can help advance early detection, expand medical research, and improve the quality of care for our loved ones.

We agreed that one significant step forward is the passage of the Improving HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act and, in the days after our meeting, I signed onto this bill as a cosponsor.

In 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service implemented a new rule that gives Medicare beneficiaries access to care planning services. Following an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, these planning services can provide vital information on treatments and support maintenance of a patient’s quality of life. The Improving HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act would expand physicians’ awareness of this recent policy change and increase access to these critical services.

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of the old. As we have improved our ability to diagnose we have found that younger patients continue to show symptoms and are inflicted with this disease. Too often people with younger-onset Alzheimer are unable to access important services to help them and their families cope with the challenges of living with this disease. This is why I proudly cosponsored the Younger-Onset Alzheimer's Disease Act of 2019. This legislation would amend the Older Americans Act (OAA) to allow people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s under age 60 to access the OAA’s support programs.

Passage of these critical pieces of legislation will build on the progress we made last Congress. By working across the aisle, the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act was passed and signed into law. I was a cosponsor of this bill, which identified best practices and expanded research.

Alzheimer’s is a disease that we can better understand, and we can eventually cure. Common sense policies like theImproving HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act and the Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Act are important steps that Congress can take to help Nebraskans live healthier, longer lives full of cherished memories. I will continue to support measures at the federal level that will lead us to a future without Alzheimer’s.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

Deb Fischer is a United States senator who represents Nebraska.

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