DPH Commissioner Honored for Contributions to Georgia’s Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias State Plan

December 1, 2014

The Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association awarded Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), the Forget-Me-Not Award last week for her work on the Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias State Plan.  The Alzheimer’s state plan is a multi-year initiative created to ensure Georgia is dementia-capable, or better equipped to fulfill the needs of those living with dementia and their families, caregivers and medical professionals.

The Forget-Me-Not award is presented to state legislators or policy makers who exemplify leadership, commitment and a desire to improve the lives of Georgians living with Alzheimer's through public policy action. Past recipients of the award include State Senator Renee Unterman, Gov. Nathan Deal and Gov. Sonny Perdue.

This year, Dr. Fitzgerald was honored for her leadership within the association’s Alzheimer's and Related Dementias State Plan Task Force where she led the Data and Research Committee.  In this role, Dr. Fitzgerald spearheaded the development of the Georgia Alzheimer's and Related Dementias Registry.  The registry is the first piece of legislation needed to ensure there are accurate Georgia-specific demographic statistics on the prevalence of dementia in the state.  Additional data captured within the registry will include various types of dementia and geographic areas most impacted by the disease.

“We are pleased to honor Dr. Fitzgerald with this award for her dynamic leadership as the state's public health officer,” said Leslie Gregory, president and chief executive officer of the Alzheimer's Association, Georgia chapter.  “Her commitment to Georgia's families living with Alzheimer's has been clearly demonstrated through her willingness to partner with the chapter and others in the creation and implementation of the Georgia Alzheimer's and Related Dementias State Plan.”

While serving on the state’s Alzheimer’s Association state plan task force, Dr. Fitzgerald worked to increase collaboration among the chapter and DPH to implement The Healthy Brain Initiative: The Public Health Road Map for State and National Partnerships. This program is a collaborative with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Alzheimer's Association to offer training opportunities that update health providers on the importance of early Alzheimer's diagnosis and explore resources needed to manage the disease.

“The challenge of addressing the growing number of individuals with Alzheimer’s cannot be met by any single agency or organization,” said Fitzgerald. “We need to foster new and expand existing collaborative efforts bringing together stakeholders at all levels to diagnose, treat and care for patients, and their families, and one day eliminate Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is a growing epidemic and the nation’s sixth leading cause of death.  As baby boomers age, the number of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease will rapidly escalate, increasing well beyond today’s more than 5 million Americans to as many as 16 million by 2050.

The disease is also making a significant impact in Georgia, as evidenced by 2014 statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association.  In Georgia, more than 130,000 seniors age 65 and up are living with Alzheimer’s disease.  By 2025, that number is expected to swiftly increase to more than 190,000 families that will experience the personal and economic burden of Alzheimer’s.

“Currently we have more than 130,000 individuals in Georgia who have been diagnosed — and we know that that number is low because studies have shown that only about half of those living with the disease have been diagnosed.” Gregory said.  “Now more than ever, our state needs to become even more equipped in helping the future generations that will face Alzheimer’s and other related diseases.”

To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association and its effort to improve the lives of those impacted by the disease and other types of dementia, visit http://www.alz.org/georgia.

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