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DeSantis signs law to promote more screening for Alzheimer’s

Florida has the second-highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the nation, according to state figures.
Ron DeSantis speaks before he signs the state budget at The Villages, Florida, on June 2, 2022.
Ron DeSantis speaks before he signs the state budget at The Villages, Florida, on June 2, 2022. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Jun. 24|Updated Jun. 24

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law on Thursday requiring the state to provide education to certain Florida health care providers on how to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

DeSantis also announced the formation of the Florida Alzheimer’s Center of Excellence, which will connect impacted Floridians and caregivers to resources and clinical trials. Details about the new center remain unclear.

“We’ve said in a variety of instances that we want to put our seniors first,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday. “This is another example — by making sure that we’re putting resources and attention towards something that impacts many, many people.”

Related: Caregivers celebrate return of Tampa Bay dementia support

Florida has the second-highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the nation, according to Florida Department of Elder Affairs data, with roughly 580,000 residents currently living with the disease.

Aging is the greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s, putting the state’s many senior residents particularly at risk.

Since early in the pandemic, DeSantis has touted a platform of putting “seniors first,” from prioritizing older adults in the vaccine rollout to signing this year’s budget in The Villages, the world’s largest retirement community. His budget included an increase in funding for many programs geared toward seniors.

The governor has signed bills into law that were supported by the nursing home industry but opposed by elder care advocacy groups like AARP Florida, which said they would harm quality of care for seniors.

Florida Alzheimer’s Center of Excellence will “build on the current infrastructure of Alzheimer’s and dementia resources,” according to Michelle Branham, secretary of the Department of Elder Affairs. The center, she said, aims to bolster communication between memory disorder clinics, task forces seeking cures for dementia-related diseases and state agencies.

It will also connect Floridians with Alzheimer’s disease to clinical trials.

DeSantis spotlighted a trial developed in partnership with INSIGHTEC, a private Israeli company, and several Florida health systems, including Broward Health and the University of Florida.

“We want to see clinical trials, we want to move the ball forward, so that people with early onset Alzheimer’s actually have some hope that there is a way to treat this more effectively than what’s been done,” DeSantis said.

The Governor’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for additional details on how the new center will provide resources to families.

DeSantis also signed SB 806, which requires the Florida Department of Health to educate health care providers about diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related disorders.

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The legislation also encourages providers to discuss warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia with older adult patients.

“The biggest issue we have is that providers aren’t equipped to recognize early signs of Alzheimer’s,” said Matthew Eaton, spokesperson for the Florida region of the Alzheimer’s Association, which helped craft the legislation.

About 95% of primary care physicians believe it’s important to screen patients for signs of cognitive decline, Eaton said, but less than half report doing so regularly.

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