Office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr.

April 6, 2001 Media Inquiries: Sean Caine 410-576-6357


Baltimore - Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr., today announced a major study of the legal and policy issues related to Alzheimerís disease. Curranís project, believed to be the first of its kind by an Attorney Generalís office, will survey a wide range of issues affecting the care of patients with dementia.

"Alzheimerís disease presents one of the biggest health issues facing our society," Curran said. "State policymakers have a responsibility to consider, in a proactive way, how our laws and policies affect patients, their families, and their professional caregivers." According to Curran, "This project fits in with the top priority we have always given to protecting the elderly against financial exploitation, prosecuting care providers who abuse the elderly, and promoting quality care at the end of life."

More than four million Americans and 83 thousand Marylanders have Alzheimerís disease or other progressive types of dementia. Unless a cure is found, these numbers can be expected to increase sharply over the next two decades. Half of all nursing home residents suffer from the disease. The disease imposes costs of at least $100 billion a year in the U.S.

Curran said that some of the issues to be considered in his study include:

  • whether those who serve as health care agents or surrogates for patients with Alzheimerís disease sufficiently understand their legal authority and duties, the kinds of decisions they are likely to face, and the factors to be considered when making these decisions, and whether there is a need for the State to develop educational materials and training modules;
  • whether community-based alternatives to formal guardianship, for those who have no agent or surrogate, might be sufficiently protective;
  • whether current reporting and evaluation procedures to determine whether people diagnosed with Alzheimerís disease should continue to drive strike the right balance among public safety, personal autonomy, and confidentiality;
  • whether there are any barriers in State regulation or Medicaid funding requirements to the availability of hospice care in nursing homes;
  • whether consumers sufficiently understand the problem of financing care for someone with Alzheimerís disease and, in particular, whether they are aware of the pros and cons of long-term care insurance;
  • whether advance directives can be an effective and ethically sound means of allowing people with early Alzheimerís disease to volunteer for future medical research on the disease;
  • whether current law adequately protects people against discrimination based on their genetic predisposition to dementia.

Stephen R. McConnell, Vice-President for Public Policy and Program Services for the Alzheimerís Association, a national volunteer organization with more than 160 chapters and 45,000 volunteers, commended Curranís initiative: "Attorney General Curranís commitment to this report marks a major breakthrough in addressing the legal and ethical challenges faced by families dealing with Alzheimerís disease. We hope it becomes a model that other states will follow."

The report, with an analysis of issues and recommendations for specific future actions by State policymakers, is expected to be finished by late fall of this year. "What we ultimately recommend will be determined by what we learn in preparing the report," Curran said. "What we know already is that a range of serious legal and policy issues are of great consequence for those who have the disease, those who care for them, and those who manage State programs that affect patients and care givers. We need to work together to create the best possible system of care."