The Biden administration on Monday pledged to speed up research into risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.
The announcement was part of the Department Health and Human Services' annual update to its National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease, which for the first time includes a new goal focused on promoting healthy aging and reducing risks that may contribute to the onset of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.
HHS acknowledged in a news release that the diseases cannot be prevented, but said there is growing evidence that addressing risk factors like high blood pressure, physical inactivity and chronic medical conditions may lower the chances of developing dementia.
An estimated 6 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease and related forms of dementia, a number that's expected to more than double by 2060. HHS said family members and friends provide the majority of care for people living with dementia, which disproportionately affects Black and Latino Americans.
"Everyone should have that opportunity to care for a loved one," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. "I'm grateful I could be there for family members, but not everyone is so fortunate. We have to make this easier."
In addition to accelerating research into risk factors, HHS plans to strengthen the infrastructure necessary to translate those findings into interventions that reduce the burden of risk factors, with a particular emphasis on health promotion activities.
The National Alzheimer's Project Act, signed into law in 2011, charged the HHS Secretary with updating the plan annually with input from agencies across HHS and other federal departments.
A number of age-related processes come together to cause cognitive impairment and dementia, Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said in a statement. Evidence shows that the wear and tear of high blood pressure on the brain's blood vessels contributes to the loss of brain function with aging.
"The good news is that blood pressure can be controlled, and aggressive blood pressure control substantially reduces one's risk for cognitive impairment and dementia," Koroshetz said. "We are excited by the new goal to use the knowledge we already have to make a difference."
The advocacy group UsAgainstAlzheimer's said it championed the addition of the new goal to prioritize prevention, and called HHS' move "a tremendous victory and a huge step forward."
"For too long, too many people erroneously have believed that cognitive decline is an inevitable part of aging, and this new goal should spur new awareness and actions to promote brain health," George Vradenburg, UsAgainstAlzheimer's co-founder and chairman, said in a statement.
UsAgainstAlzheimer's said this is the first major move by the Biden administration to make good on its promise to cure Alzheimer's disease. The group said the next step to help patients would be for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to "reverse its historic Medicare Part B premium increase" now that Biogen has agreed to halve the price of its controversial Alzheimer's drug, Aduhelm.
CMS in November attributed the 15% increase in Part B premiums to the potential cost of Aduhelm. Patient advocates now argue the premium hike should be lowered. While the CMS reportedly hasn't changed premiums after the fact before, sources told Modern Healthcare the agency could do so.