Upon seeing a pink ribbon, the average American will easily be reminded of the tragic toll taken by breast cancer and the critical need for supporting breast cancer research. The same can be said for blue ribbons and the fight against prostate cancer. Alzheimer’s also has a symbol, the purple ribbon, but when compared to cancer and other serious illnesses, the disease receives only a fraction of the research funding. As our population ages and the number of Americans afflicted by Alzheimer’s grows, we must prioritize the funding of new research. By making these investments now, we will be able to provide better treatment and save countless lives in the future.
There are currently 5.3 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s. Every 67 seconds another American will be diagnosed with the disease. It is estimated that over the next 35 years, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s will climb drastically: the Alzheimer’s Association reports that more than 28 million baby boomers will develop the disease, already the most expensive long-term illness in America.
Alzheimer’s already claims more than 80,000 lives per year, making it the sixth leading cause of death in America. Perhaps more frightening than the number of lives that it claims is the manner in which it claims them. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that causes brain deterioration and memory loss, leading to the loss of the ability to perform the simplest tasks. Even worse, it eventually results in the loss of its victim’s memories and an inability to recognize family members.
The Alzheimer’s Association recently reported that Americans provided nearly 18 billion hours of unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in 2014. Many family members of Alzheimer’s patients are forced to leave their jobs in order to provide care around the clock.
In 2015, the cost of care alone is estimated to total $226 billion, with half of the cost being paid by Medicare. By 2050, that figure is expected to balloon to over $1.1 trillion – including a five-fold increase in both Medicare and Medicaid spending and out-of-pocket spending.
Congress allocates over $5 billion annually on cancer research to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It has also provided over $1 billion for heart disease research and more than $3 billion for HIV/AIDS research. This research and focus has led to real results: the mortality rate from heart disease, cancer, and stroke has decreased in recent years.
In comparison, a mere $500 million is spent on Alzheimer’s research, despite the fact that the past decade has seen a 70 percent increase in deaths due to Alzheimer’s. It is clear that we must do more to stave off this looming health care crisis and find better methods of early detection and treatment.
We have already taken the first steps towards the goal of effectively combating Alzheimer’s. In 2012, the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease was established, creating the first integrated plan to address and overcome Alzheimer’s in our country. By coordinating research with the goal of improving methods for early diagnosis and providing effective treatment by 2025, this plan has already led to significant progress in the advancement of Alzheimer’s research. However, funding to reach this goal remains disproportionately low compared with the challenges we face, and Congress must provide extra resources for research.
As a member of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, I continue to advocate for an increased focus on Alzheimer’s research. Despite the significant challenges that this disease poses to our nation, I am confident that with the proper resources we can stop it in its tracks. I will continue to do all that I can to see this goal met and give it the attention that it deserves.