THE BLOG

We Have Done It Before, and We Must Do It Again

04/09/2014 04:39 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2014

Our country is in the middle of an Alzheimer's crisis that has already been devastating to millions among the "greatest generation," is well on its way toward doing the same directly to the "boomers," and has already immersed their progeny in caregiving. Right now there are more than 5 million Americans who have this progressive, degenerative and fatal disease. Beyond the destructive human effects, this wave of Alzheimer's prevalence could bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid. The cost for care is projected to be $214 billion this year alone -- and that doesn't include the unpaid care provided by 15 million family members and friends. In fact, Medicare spends nearly $1 of every $5 on someone with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. Without any way to prevent, stop or even slow the progression of Alzheimer's, we are on a course toward having as many as 16 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease by 2050, which will drive an annual uninflated cost of $1.2 trillion.

Thanks to the National Alzheimer's Project Act, which was unanimously passed by Congress in 2010, we now have a National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease. However, without sufficient funds to implement the Plan, we will fail to accomplish its most transformational goal: to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer's by 2025.

Thanks to the success of funding medical advancements for other diseases, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that from 2000 to 2010, deaths from heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, prostate cancer and HIV/AIDS all decreased. These are excellent outcomes, but given inadequate funding, deaths from Alzheimer's increased 68-percent.

We are encouraged by the progress realized in addressing these other leading causes of death and by the advancement of Alzheimer's science, even though it's been slowed by the lack of funding. As a nation we know what it takes to be successful, and we can replicate that success for Alzheimer's. The advancements made in other major diseases directly correlate with the financial commitments made by the federal government. We need our federal policy leaders to make such commitments to Alzheimer's or risk an even greater and even more inexcusable human toll as well as an absolutely predictable and unsustainable financial burden for future generations.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have outlined necessary scientific steps to capitalize on the recent successes in basic science to achieve the goal of the National Alzheimer's Plan. Other leading scientists have recommended a steady increase of funds to at least $2 billion a year, which is still less than what is currently allocated each year to those other leading causes of death in which we've seen success. In January Congress approved the biggest increase in Alzheimer's funding to date, bringing the Fiscal Year 2014 budget to $566 million. We are thankful for these steps in the right direction, but we remain unrelenting in our pursuit of fulfilling the scientists' plans and our citizenry's needs to address Alzheimer's urgently with adequate funding. As stated by Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), while testifying on Alzheimer's research before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services:

We are not, at the moment, limited by ideas. We are not limited by scientific opportunities. We are not limited by talent. We are, unfortunately, limited by resources to be able to move this enterprise forward at the pace that it could take.

The Alzheimer's Accountability Act (S. 2192/H.R. 4351) represents a bipartisan effort to ensure that Congress is equipped with the best possible information to identify the most promising opportunities in Alzheimer's research and set funding guided by our most knowledgeable Alzheimer's scientists. It authorizes the NIH to submit a Professional Judgment Budget to Congress outlining funding for critical Alzheimer's research needed to accomplish the goals of the National Alzheimer's Plan in each fiscal year leading up to 2025. The Alzheimer's Association commends Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) for their leadership in introducing this important legislation.

We are at a pivotal moment with scientists poised to make more significant and rapid advances if given the necessary resources. In the future we will either look back at 2014 as a turning point in the Alzheimer's crisis, the year we started making really significant progress toward the goals of the National Alzheimer's Plan, or we will look back at the missed opportunity that could have saved millions of Americans lives and trillions of dollars in avoidable costs.

Today more than 800 Alzheimer's advocates will storm Capitol Hill during the Alzheimer's Association Advocacy Forum. These advocates know the devastation of Alzheimer's and are committed to securing the full implementation of the National Alzheimer's Plan, including adequately funding Alzheimer's research. It is a big task, but they have history on their side. America has done it before. We must do it again. Urgently.

Join us by asking your member of Congress to support the Alzheimer's Accountability Act at act.alz.org/accountability.