Into the spotlight: Combating Alzheimer’s disease

By U.S. Sen. Susan Collins

    I recently had the joy of meeting Glen Campbell, an iconic figure in country and popular music known for such hits as “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Gentle on My Mind” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” While Glen did bring his guitar with him to Capitol Hill, his primary purpose was not to perform. He instead came with his family to advocate on behalf of the growing number of Americans and families who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. His daughter, Ashley, also testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, on which I serve as the Ranking Member.

    Glen is slowing being robbed of his memories by Alzheimer’s. In June of 2011, he announced his diagnosis and went on a final “Goodbye Tour” with Ashley and her two brothers joining him on stage as his backup band. Faced with the diagnosis, the Campbell family did not retreat into the shadows. Rather, they embraced the challenge and literally stepped into the spotlight to help reduce the stigma that many patients with Alzheimer’s and their families often feel.
    As someone whose family has experienced the pain of Alzheimer’s many times, I know the tremendous personal and economic toll that this terrible disease takes on the individual and the family. It is an agonizing experience to look into the eyes of a loved one only to receive a confused look in return. It is equally painful to witness the emotional and physical damage inflicted on family caregivers, exhausted by an endless series of “36-hour days.”
    An estimated 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, more than double the number in 1980. Based on the current trajectory, as many as 16 million Americans over the age of 65 will have Alzheimer’s disease by 2050. In addition to the human suffering it causes, Alzheimer’s costs the United States more than $200 billion a year, including $142 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. This price tag will increase exponentially as the baby boom generation ages.
    In many ways, Alzheimer’s has become the defining disease of my generation. It is estimated that nearly one in two of the baby boomers reaching 85 will develop Alzheimer’s. As a consequence, chances are that members of the baby boom generation will either be spending their golden years with Alzheimer’s or caring for someone who has it.
    In 2010, I co-authored the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a coordinated, strategic national plan to combat and effectively treat Alzheimer’s. The Department released the first National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease last May with the primary goal to “prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.”
    If we are to prevent Alzheimer’s from becoming the defining disease of the next generation, it is imperative that we dramatically increase our investment in Alzheimer’s disease research. At a time when the cost to Medicare and Medicaid of caring for Alzheimer’s patients is $142 billion a year, we are spending less than $500 million a year on Alzheimer’s research. The public members of the Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care and Services says we will need to devote $2 billion a year to Alzheimer’s research to meet the 2025 goal. I have therefore asked the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, to double the amount we currently spend on Alzheimer’s research in FY 2014 as a down payment, and to work with me on a plan to meet the $2 billion target over the next five years.
    A strong and sustained research effort is our best tool to slow the progression and ultimately prevent the onset of this devastating disease. With that and the courageous advocacy efforts from families like the Campbells, I am convinced that we will find better treatments, a means of prevention, and, ultimately, a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Get the Rest of the Story

Thank you for reading your4 free articles this month. To continue reading, and support local, rural journalism, please subscribe.