New law updates language related to dementia

Based on the growing number of Coloradans living with dementia, a new law updates and broadens the language used in state statutes and gives this population the same legal status as people living with mental illness or with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Colorado is the first state to change this language in its laws across the board. A total of 267,000 residents have some form of dementia, and that number is growing.

Huntington Potter with Gov. Hickenlooper
Gov. John Hickenlooper with Huntington Potter, director of the Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, in signing the legislation, singled out Colorado as the first state to change its definition to include all of the diseases associated with the word “dementia.” He called the measure “forward thinking.”

Old statutes that will be changed used words such as “senile” and “senility,” or they mentioned only Alzheimer’s disease instead of referring to any or all neurodegenerative diseases. The new language reads “for persons with dementia diseases and related disabilities.” The word changes will be added to the state’s missing persons alert system.

The new law impacts the Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Disease Center (RMADC), which is part of the Department of Neurology in the University of Colorado School of Medicine. For official university purposes, the center will be renamed the Dementia Diseases and Related Disabilities Treatment and Research Center. As far as the public nomenclature, the center will remain the Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

“We’re not changing the public name of the center because Alzheimer’s is the disease most commonly thought of when it comes to dementia,” said Huntington Potter, PhD, RMADC director. “But this is an important behind-the-scenes change because it makes the law supporting us more accurate. We’re focused on treatment, clinical care and research for all of these diseases.”

The center will wear its new name in the state laws that help fund it. RMADC receives money from the state of Colorado for research into the causes of and treatments for a host of neurodegenerative diseases, namely Alzheimer’s disease, mixed dementia, Lewy Body dementia, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and other forms of dementia.

“The new law recognizes the expansion of our mission to include all dementing diseases and related disabilities,” said Potter.

In response to the new law, RMADC Clinical Director Jonathan Woodcock, MD, said, “Our clinic, the Memory Disorders Clinic, treats patients with all forms of dementia. This change helps bring the public understanding of dementia more in line with the medical science associated with it.”

Rep. Susan Beckman (R-Littleton), the bill’s sponsor, said the measure takes away ambiguity in the law about people with dementia and brings them into the same reference points as others with disabling conditions.

Guest contributor: Helen Gray of the Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Disease Center. 

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