By Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

My grandmother, Katherine, was one of the most important people in my life. She was smart, tough and loving. She instilled in me the work ethic and values that guide my work to this day. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, my entire family was affected. My grandfather, mom, aunt, sister, cousins and I had to become her caregivers and her advocates. We were lucky to have that strong support system, yet it was still difficult for us to watch her health decline and feel as though there was so little we could do to help.

My family’s experience with Alzheimer’s makes this issue personal for me. I was especially troubled to discover that only 16 percent of seniors get regular cognitive assessments, even though Medicare’s annual wellness visits are supposed to include a check for warning signs of dementia.1 Primary care doctors are often hesitant to perform these regular assessments on seniors unless patients raise concerns. Joanne Pike, chief program officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, says that patients rarely broach the subject with their doctors because of fear, stigma or the misconception that early detection won’t make a difference. That means many seniors are diagnosed too late for them to enter clinical trials or plan for the future, limiting their treatment options.

Alzheimer’s patients in rural areas face particular challenges when accessing treatment options, securing caregivers and finding adequate support systems given their distance from public transit and urban medical centers.2 Some evidence also suggests rates of dementia are higher in rural areas than cities.3 The epidemic of dementia will hit Nevada’s rural communities especially hard because Nevada has the third largest growth rate of Alzheimer’s diagnoses in the country, with 64,000 Nevadans expected to have Alzheimer’s by 2025.4 We need immediate action to establish a health infrastructure to provide quality care to future patients as well as the 45,000 Nevadans already living with Alzheimer’s.

That is why as Senator, I’ve fought to find new ways to tackle Alzheimer’s Disease and incentivize early detection. There is much we can do to support new treatment options, improve public awareness of the disease and support patients and caregivers across the country. I’m so proud that my legislation, the Building Our Largest Dementia (BOLD) Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act, passed into law. This legislation strengthens our fight against Alzheimer’s by designating the disease as a public health crisis and making it a national priority for funding and research.

Fighting Alzheimer’s takes a village, and I’m grateful for the work Nevadans are doing to ensure Alzheimer’s patients have the treatment and support they deserve. From the skilled dementia caregivers at the Garden Court in Elko to the support groups sponsored by Alzheimer’s Nevada Caregivers in Laughlin, rural communities in Nevada are rising to the occasion. Nevada Rural Counties Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, also known as RSVP, started a program last year called “Dementia Friendly Pahrump” to spread disease awareness and create multi-sector coordination to care for dementia patients in Nye County. Dementia Friendly Nevada also does incredible work across the state to support people living with dementia and their care partners through a multi-sector approach that bolsters education, community and care. I’m also proud of the state-of-the-art care offered to patients with brain diseases by the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. The Sanford Center for Aging at the University of Nevada, Reno and the Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California and Northern Nevada are also emerging as leaders in addressing the needs of people with dementia. I’m proud to see Nevada’s communities work tirelessly to create robust networks of support groups, adult care centers and online resources for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.

I’m so grateful for caregivers, doctors and advocates in rural Nevada who provide countless hours of support for Alzheimer’s patients, and I’m proud to have passed legislation that empowers and advances their work. It’s the dedication of advocates in Nevada and the legacy of my grandmother that continue to inspire my work in the Senate. Fighting for federal funding and a health infrastructure that creates first-class research, treatment and support for Alzheimer’s patients and their families will always be one of my top priorities. Together, we’ll continue to strive for a cure.