BOSTON — A new state law aims to change the way Alzheimer's Disease diagnoses and treatment are handled in Massachusetts in hopes of addressing what one advocate said is currently the "single largest unaddressed public health threat."

The law, which Gov. Charlie Baker signed on Aug. 9 and marked with a ceremonial signing on Wednesday, requires the creation of an "integrated state plan to address and assist in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease," establishes an advisory council on research and treatment, and calls upon doctors to report an initial Alzheimer's diagnosis to a patient's family.

More than 130,000 Massachusetts residents live with dementia, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who joined Baker and lawmakers for the ceremony at the Waltham offices of the Alzheimer's Association.

Under the law, doctors will be required to report an initial Alzheimer's diagnosis and treatment information to a family member or legal personal representative, after obtaining the patient's consent and in keeping with privacy laws. Hospitals will be required to implement operational plans for recognizing and managing dementia, and Alzheimer's training will be incorporated into continuing education for doctors, physicians assistants and nurses. Elder protective services caseworkers will also be trained in recognizing cognitive impairments.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's dementia, 5.5 million of whom are 65 and older. By 2025, the number of people 65 and older with Alzheimer's dementia is projected to climb almost 29 percent, to 7.1 million. Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and is becoming a more common cause of death as the country's population ages.

The association pegs the total national cost of caring for those with Alzheimer's and other dementias at $277 billion, with total payments for health care, long-term care and hospice care expected to rise to more than $1.1 trillion in 2050.

Supporters of the legislation hailed it as a nation-leading measure and said almost all families have a personal connection to Alzheimer's.

State House News Service