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Academy Award-Winning Actress Marcia Gay Harden Testifies at Senate Aging Committee Hearing on Alzheimer’s Disease

By 2050, nearly 14 million seniors will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease

Click HERE for a copy of Senator Collins’ remarks

Click HERE for a copy of Senator Casey’s remarks


Washington, D.C. – At a Senate Aging Committee hearing today on the human and economic toll of Alzheimer’s disease, hundreds of advocates packed the audience, forming a “sea of purple.”  The hearing, titled “Changing the Trajectory of Alzheimer’s: Reducing Risk, Detecting Early Symptoms, and Improving Data,” explored the need to reduce the personal and financial burden on individuals, families, and society through a multi-faceted public health approach that will reduce risk, increase early detection and diagnosis, improve data collection, and better support those living with the disease.  U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Bob Casey are the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Aging Committee.


The Committee heard testimony from award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden, who recently published a personal memoir, “The Seasons of My Mother: A Memoir of Love, Family, and Flowers.”  The book details her relationship with her mother who is living with Alzheimer’s and the effect of the disease on her mother and her family.  Ms. Gay Harden’s acting career includes winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.  She currently stars in CBS’s “Code Black.”


“There is no medicine yet, no surgery yet to grasp the dangling thread of memory, to rethread the needle and weave it back into her tapestry and connect thoughts to memory and life experience, to allow her to remember her life,” said Ms. Gay Harden of her mother’s disease. “Instead, as the patient and family wait impatiently, more threads unravel, more dangling thoughts, the tapestry of her life slowly disintegrates, the picture is blurred and memory is lost.”


Ms. Gay Harden explained that victims and families share her frustrations, and she praised the recent introduction of the Building Our Largest Dementia (BOLD) Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act to help improve our nation’s response to Alzheimer’s.  This bipartisan legislation, authored by Senator Collins and cosponsored by 35 bipartisan Senators, including Senator Casey, would create the public health infrastructure we need to combat Alzheimer’s and preserve brain health.


“Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging,” said Senator Collins, the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease.  “It is a public health issue with a course that we can change.  There are steps that we can take today to help prevent cognitive decline and improve the lives of those living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.  This public health approach is not only empowering; it is the key to saving lives.”


“Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are among the greatest public health challenges facing older Americans. As our population ages, the number of people living with the disease and their caregivers will only grow,” said Senator Casey. “That’s why I will continue fighting to increase Alzheimer’s research funding to find a cure. Bipartisan legislation, like the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act, is also needed to ensure those living with the disease and those caring for them have the support they need.” 


The BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act would establish Centers of Excellence in Public Health Practice dedicated to promoting Alzheimer’s disease management and caregiving interventions as well as educating the public on Alzheimer’s disease and brain health.  The legislation would also help public health departments across the country take key steps including education, early diagnosis, risk reduction, care management, and caregiver support.  Finally, BOLD would direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand its collection of data on cognitive decline, caregiving, and health disparities. 


Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and the risk of diagnosis increases with age.  The growing prevalence of Alzheimer’s is likely to continue in the United States for decades to come. While Alzheimer’s is most common in adults over the age of 65, a growing number of adults younger than 65 are being diagnosed.  An estimated 5.7 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s. If we continue on the current trajectory, nearly 14 million seniors will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease by 2050.


Additional Witness Testimony


Lisa C. McGuire PhD, Alzheimer’s Disease and Healthy Aging Program, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Atlanta, GA): Dr. McGuire spoke of the work at CDC creating initiatives and promoting cognitive health to help meet the needs of caregivers at the national, state, and local levels.  The CDC will release a second road map in 2018 that will propose 25 specific actions state and local public health agencies can take.


Teresa Osborne, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Aging. (Harrisburg, PA): Secretary Osborne testified about Pennsylvania’s current infrastructure, including the state plan on aging and Alzheimer’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease research centers, partnerships with the Alzheimer’s Association, and the state plan task force. She also spoke to the importance of Older Americans Act programming as a source of resources and supports for families affected by Alzheimer’s disease.


Gareth Howell, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Jackson Laboratory. (Bar Harbor, ME):  Over the past five years, Dr. Howell and three of his colleagues at JAX have established and led a diverse and vibrant Alzheimer’s disease research program that aims to identify genetic factors that drive both susceptibility and resilience to Alzheimer’s, as well as understand modifiable risk factors and comorbidities that contribute to the disease. To identify early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Dr. Howell’s lab uses a variety of genetic and genomic approaches to pinpoint genes and proteins that drive the pre-symptomatic stages of Alzheimer’s.


Cheryll Woods-Flowers, Family Caregiver. (Mount Pleasant, SC): Woods-Flowers is the daughter of the late Richard Allen Novak Sr., who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease in February of 2018. For nearly 16 years, Woods-Flowers, with the help of her siblings, served as their father’s caregiver, conservator, and guardian as he battled his disease. Woods-Flowers promised her dad that she would be his advocate and voice as long as she was able to, and hopes that a cure will be found so that her children and grandchildren will not have to worry about the disease.  She asked Congress to continue to make Alzheimer’s research a priority and pass the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act to help other families be diagnosed early.


Click HERE to read the witnesses’ full testimonies.