Bring Alzheimer’s out of the shadows

By U.S. Sen. Susan Collins

    Each year, the Alzheimer’s Association hosts walks around the country to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Thousands of people are participating in walks in eight communities around our state, from Fort Kent to York and Calais to Lewiston. While each participant walks for his or her own personal reason, everyone walks for one common goal: to fight this devastating disease.

    Many Maine families have experienced the personal and economic impacts of this terrible disease. 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 exhausted family caregivers, who may be frail themselves.
    During my time in the Senate, I have worked hard to increase awareness and funding for Alzheimer’s. My work was recently recognized during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., when the Women Against Alzheimer’s presented me with its “Out of the Shadows” award. I am extremely proud of this award, but our work is not done. I know how important it is that we bring this devastating disease out of the shadows and into the light.
    An estimated 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease; more than double the number in 1980. If nothing is done to change the current trajectory, as many as 16 million Americans over the age of 65 will have Alzheimer’s disease by 2050. This disease imposes a particularly heavy burden on women. Of the 5.2 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, 3.4 million are women. Not only is the prevalence of the disease higher in women, but also women are more likely to be the family caregiver. According to a recent survey done by the Alzheimer’s Association, of the individuals providing care at home for someone with Alzheimer’s, 63 percent are women.
    In addition to the human suffering it causes, Alzheimer’s places an enormous financial strain on families, our health care system, and State and federal budgets. Alzheimer’s costs the United States $214 billion a year, including $150 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. These costs will explode as the baby boom generation ages. If nothing is done to change the trajectory, the annual cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias will increase from $214 billion to $1.2 trillion in 2050.
    Yet, despite Alzheimer’s already costing the United States more than $214 billion a year, we are spending less than three tenths of one percent of that amount – about $600 million a year – on research. We currently spend $6 billion a year for cancer research, $3 billion for research on HIV/AIDS, and $2 billion for cardiovascular research, all worthwhile investments that are paying dividends. The annual death rates for these diseases are decreasing, suggesting that investments in research are having a positive effect.
    In contrast, mortality due to Alzheimer’s disease is escalating dramatically. According to a new study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center, Alzheimer’s is now the third leading cause of death, closely behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. Surely, we can do more for Alzheimer’s given its costly human and economic price.
    Fortunately, there is promising research that holds great hope for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. The research community is poised to make important advances through clinical trials and investigating new therapeutic targets. But adequate funding is critical to advance this research.
    This year’s federal funding bill took an important step forward by providing a $100 million increase for Alzheimer’s research at the National Institute of Aging. I believe, however, that we must do more.
    That’s why Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and I have authored a bipartisan resolution declaring that the goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s by 2025 is an “urgent national priority.” Our resolution recognizes that significant increases in research funding are necessary to meet that goal and resolves that Congress should strive to double the amount of funding the U.S. spends on research in 2015. The resolution also calls for the development of a plan to meet the target of $2 billion a year in funding for research as recommended by the experts on the federal Alzheimer’s Advisory Council.
    Increasing our nation‘s investment to just one percent of what we are currently spending to care for Alzheimer’s patients would make a real difference.
    The resolution builds upon the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, a law I authored four years ago. It requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a coordinated, strategic national plan to combat and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease. This plan is updated annually and helps us focus our efforts and accelerate our progress toward better treatments, a means of prevention, and ultimately even a cure.

‘If nothing is done to change the current trajectory, as many as 16 million Americans over the age of 65
will have Alzheimer’s disease by 2050.’

~ Sen. Susan M. Collins

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