Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), ranking member and chairman,
respectively, of the Senate Aging Committee, share a laugh during Tuesday’s hearing.

Bipartisan legislation that would amend the Older Americans Act to allow individuals aged less than 60 years who have a diagnosis of younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease to access the support programs of the act was featured Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

The hearing was held in conjunction with the annual advocacy forum of the Alzheimer’s Association.

The bill, S. 901, also known as the Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Act, was introduced in the Senate last week by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), chairman of the committee, Sen. Bob Casey, ranking member, and Sens. Doug Jones (D-AL) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Pete King (R-NY), David Trone (D-MD), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced the bill as H.R. 1903 in the House of Representatives.

Nutritional programs, supportive services, transportation, legal services, elder-abuse prevention and caregiver support have been available through the OAA since 1965. Under current law, however, only those aged more than 60 are eligible.

“These programs would make a huge difference in the lives of individuals living with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease who don’t have support services available to them,” said hearing witness Mary Dysart Hartt of Hampden, ME, a caregiver to her husband, Mike, who has young-onset Alzheimer’s.

Approximately 200,000 individuals aged less than 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, according to hearing witness Clay Jacobs, executive director of the Greater Pennsylvania Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, North Abington Township, PA.

“The need to reach everyone affected will grow significantly in the coming years,” he said.

Casey thanked Collins for agreeing to work with him on policies that would address the subset of young people who receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and have a disability such as Down syndrome.

Collins, a founder and co-chair of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, said that she and Casey are leading this year’s OAA reauthorization efforts.

Other legislation also was discussed Tuesday.

Collins said she was introducing the Lifespan Respite Care Act with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) Tuesday “to help communities and states provide respite care for families.”

The bill would authorize $20 million for fiscal year 2020, with funding increasing by $10 million annually to reach $60 million for fiscal year 2024, for the Lifespan Respite Care program, which allows full-time caregivers to take a temporary break from their responsibilities of caring for aging or disabled family members.

“Whenever I ask family caregivers, which included my own mother, about their greatest needs, the number one request that I hear is for more respite care,” Collins said.