From 6th grader to lawmakers, an effort to cure Alzheimer’s in Texas

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Hundreds of thousands of Texans face Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses. Advocates want the state to fund more research and education for the disease. They flooded the Texas Capitol to make their case to lawmakers.

“It’s time for Texas to make Alzheimer’s a public health crisis,” said Mary McCourt, a member of the Midland chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Her dad died in 2017 after living with Alzheimer’s for 14 years. Her grandfather also had it.

“I am here to fight so that my grandchildren don’t have to fight the Alzheimer’s fight,” McCourt said.

The National Institute on Aging ranks the disease as the 6th leading cause of death in the country. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates nearly 400,000 Texans live with the disease.

“It’s the only cause of death of the ‘Top 10’ that has no cure, no treatment, and no way to slow its progression,” State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, said as he honored the group in the Texas House on Wednesday.

In advocating about a disease that affects older people, 11-year-old Olivia Machado stands out. The Waco 6th grader regularly meets with state and federal lawmakers, and has raised approximately $12,000 from a lemonade stand she puts on with her friends, in honor of her grandmother.

“She had Alzheimer’s and I just wanted to find a cure for it,” Machado said.

Efforts in the Texas legislature

After serving on the Senate’s aging committee, State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, was inspired to craft legislation to target Alzheimer’s at the state level in a plan she said would “look at early detection, diagnosis and risk reduction”

“We start with the state plan so that we figure out how best can we reach people to detect, early detection, so that we might be able to remedy it before it gets bad,” she explained, mentioning wellness behavior would create a healthier state.

“We all have friends that are affected by this if it is not in our own family,” Campbell said of the debilitating disease.

Senate Bill 999, which Campbell authored, passed both chambers and is on the Governor’s desk, awaiting a signature or veto. It will automatically become law if the Governor does not act within 10 days.

The state had a plan that was created in 2007 and was active from 2010-2015, but it has not been updated. Campbell’s legislation would revisit the plan.

SB 999 lays the groundwork for strategizing with physicians, caregivers, and state agencies to facilitate a better information exchange and flow of ideas. But one notable absence: it does not have a fiscal note, meaning there’s no money tied to it.

McCourt and others are asking lawmakers to allocate funding for the state’s Alzheimer’s Disease Program run by the Department of State Health Services.

“Show us the money and give us $1 million every two years to go towards our health facilities and to just educate Texans on what’s going on with Alzheimer’s,” McCourt said.

Campbell put a rider in the budget that would provide $20 million for research based in San Antonio.

“Sometimes we plant the seeds for the tree to grow tomorrow,” Campbell said.

Zerwas is hopeful the state can work to improve the Alzheimer’s statistics.

“I am very, very optimistic that we are going to see not only better treatments that will perhaps allow them to live a longer life and one that lets them to continue to be engaged with their family and in the community, and I think we will find these cures one day,” he said.

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