The Pioneer Institute selected La Follette School Professor Dave Weimer and Dr. Mark Sager as runners-up in its 2017 Better Government Competition. Weimer and Sager, an emeritus gerontologist at UW–Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health, created a life-course model of Alzheimer’s patients to assess the costs and benefits to families and government of early detection.
Using their proposal, states create incentives for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease by reimbursing primary care physicians and county health departments for the costs of administering tests. Those found to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease can be treated to slow the disease’s progression. Support can also be given to their caregivers to enable them to remain in the community longer.
“We found large social and fiscal benefits,” Weimer said about their cost-benefit analysis. “We’ve been delighted that Minnesota and Wisconsin have used our findings to create Alzheimer’s screening programs, and we hope other states will follow suit so that they can reduce the long-term costs of Alzheimer’s through their Medicaid programs.”
During casual front-yard conversations with Sager, Weimer said, he learned a great deal from his neighbor, who created the first inventory of adult children of Alzheimer’s patients to study the disease’s environmental and genetic risk factors.
First, physicians are not enthusiastic about diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease because they can’t stop or reverse it. However, “most patients want to know so they can be involved in the planning of the rest of their lives,” Weimer said.
Second, drugs can slow the disease progression, but more importantly, caregiver support can enable families to keep their loved one home longer, reducing the need for expensive long-term care in nursing homes.
Third, screening for Alzheimer’s is relatively inexpensive.
The Pioneer Institute’s 2017 Better Government Competition focused on ideas that can ensure a better future for aging citizens in Massachusetts and the country through programs for housing, health care, and public health as well as unique partnerships between government agencies and care providers.