Funding A Cure For Alzheimer's: How It Could Save America Billions

10/01/2011 02:16 am ET | Updated Nov 30, 2011

While the congressional super committee meets in Washington in the hopes of lowering spending by about $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years, here's one of the sobering realities they must face: In that same decade, the nation will spend an additional $2 trillion caring for Americans with Alzheimer's.

The cost of this care -- primarily in Medicare and Medicaid payments -- will negate virtually all of the gains made from the Budget Control Act of 2011. For the health of our nation's economy and seniors, we cannot accept this two-steps-forward, two-steps-back approach.

To achieve real and lasting savings, the super committee must recommend more funding for Alzheimer's research for the new treatments that will produce massive savings to the Federal government in the next 10 years.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of a growing health crisis and price tag, the National Institutes of Health only invests about $450 million per year researching cures and treatments of Alzheimer's. By contrast, it annually invests $5.8 billion on cancer and $3.1 billion on HIV. Cancer and HIV/AIDS death rates are declining and Alzheimer's death rates are up dramatically. This lack of urgency explains why, among the nation's 10 leading causes of death, Alzheimer's is the only disease with no known treatment or cure.

As we gear up for the 17th World Alzheimer's Day next week, 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Last year alone, Alzheimer's cost taxpayers $183 billion.

As baby boomers turn 65 this year at the rate of 10,000 per day, one in eight of them will have Alzheimer's and 10 million of them will die with this disease. This baby boomer class includes notably spry Americans like Dolly Parton, Steven Spielberg and both Presidents George W Bush and Bill Clinton.

Perhaps the reason curing Alzheimer's is not a top-of-mind issue is because it's not pleasant to think about. For many of us, there is no greater fear than losing a lifetime of memories.

Another reason some aren't as concerned about Alzheimer's is because they see the effects of the disease as a normal function of aging. But from personal experience, I can say there is nothing normal about Alzheimer's.

Twenty years ago, my wife's mother called at 3 a.m. to complain about a strange man in her house. We rushed over, only to find that the "strange man" was my father. By the end of her life, my wife's mother could no longer speak, move or recognize her daughter. This lioness of a woman disappeared into the unforgiving chasm of Alzheimer's.

We can change this devastating fate for other Americans and for the future of our heavy economy.

The research community believes a cure for Alzheimer's is possible within 10 years with the right plan adequately funded. Ten years may seem challenging -- and it is -- but let's not forget President John Kennedy's challenge in 1961 to land a man on the moon before the decade was out. Apollo 11 touched down on the moon just eight years later. It's time for another giant leap for mankind.

As Jonas Salk said before discovering a vaccine for polio, "We don't need more iron lungs, we need a cure." Today, we don't need more nursing homes, we need a cure. Alzheimer's is bankrupting our nation. In this era of budget austerity, we cannot afford anything less than a cure.