The new Wisconsin Cares bill package addresses the rising number of Wisconsin residents who will face Alzheimer’s and dementia, two incurable diseases, as the baby boomer generation ages.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the only top 10 cause of death that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s website. It affects more than 110,000 Wisconsinites.

The bill package, proposed Jan. 20 by the bipartisan Task Force on Alzheimer’s and Dementia, would implement measures to strengthen research, quality of care and support for families and patients. All 10 bills passed through committee Feb. 2, and most passed unanimously. 

Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, member of the task force, said those with these diseases lose not only their memories, but also their families, friends and their independence.

“[This legislation] works to … increase the help holistically, both for the individual suffering directly as well as their families,” Brostoff said.

Rob Gundermann, public policy director for Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin, an organization that helped lawmakers draft the legislation, said the package would make dramatic changes to how Alzheimer’s and dementia are addressed, with minimal cost to taxpayers. One of the most important things this legislation does is allow patients to stay in their homes, he said.

80 percent of individuals dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia live in their homes, making it difficult for families to go to work and make money, Brostoff said.

Under one of the bills in the package, $1 million would be invested into respite care programs, which would provide home care givers, so other family members can go to work, Brostoff said.

Another bill would provide $250,000 in grant money to train mobile crisis units who could treat patient emergencies within homes, rather than relocating patients to hospitals, Gunderman said.

The package would also finance additional hiring and training of dementia care specialists, Gunderman said. This will help smaller counties that do not have enough care providers, he said.

The legislation would also fund research for cures. An additional $50,000 would be provided for the University of Wisconsin’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

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Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement she is grateful for the task force’s efforts to fund more research.

“Every day at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the best and brightest engage in research to help improve the lives of Wisconsin’s citizens,” Blank said in the statement. “We know Alzheimer’s disease and dementia impact the lives of many people in the state, from patients to caregivers and their families. Research is crucial to finding treatments and cures.”

The only bill that faced opposition on Feb. 2 was a bill that would require patients to sign an informed consent form for the administration of psychotropic, or “black box” medications. The bill passed on a 6-4 vote.

Rep. Rodriguez, R-Franklin, who voted against the bill, said in the executive session that the use of treatments should be the doctor’s decision.

“I think this is a good bill but doctors should prescribe [medications] to these patients,” Rodriguez said in the session. “They know best about these [medications] and if they think the patient needs it, even if it could be slightly harmful to the patient, then the doctor should be the one to tell them ‘this is the reason why.’”

But Gundermann said “black box” medications are dangerous treatments and the informed consent the bill requires could save lives.

Gundermann, who met with lawmakers when the legislation was being drafted, said he was impressed with the partnership between Republicans and Democrats to solve this issue. He said the legislators valued his expert advice and crafted legislation that will “dramatically change the picture of dementia in Wisconsin.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement that Wisconsin Cares will move Wisconsin in the right direction.

“The Wisconsin Cares legislative package is a step in the right direction, as we work together to help families coping with Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Vos said. “When that devastating diagnosis is given, I want Wisconsinites to know that we’re fighting the battle alongside them.”

Vidushi Saxena contributed reporting to this article.