By Kerry Luksic
My mother led a life of action and persistence. When it came to life’s challenges, there was never any sitting on the sidelines or throwing in the towel. Mom had 13 children to care for and needed to take life by the horns each day.
And she did for decades, spending years raising all of us, volunteering at our church, helping others in need and making a difference in all the lives she touched. She lived this way until her early 70s, when everything changed. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
That was seven years ago, and since that time, she has progressed to advanced-stage Alzheimer’s. Bluntly, it’s too late for her. And sadly, it’s most likely too late for the 5.4 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s. With no cure and no way to prevent it, Alzheimer’s remains the sixth-leading cause of death.
But Alzheimer’s doesn’t just impact the individual; it’s a family disease, with nearly 15 million individuals caring for a loved one with this illness and slowly watching them slip away. Every 68 seconds someone in America develops Alzheimer’s and — with more than 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 each day — the Alzheimer’s train has long left the station, and there are no brakes on it to slow it down. Perhaps, until now.
America is at the proverbial fork in the road with Alzheimer’s. In January 2011, President Obama signed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act into law. A year later, the Department of Health and Human Services released the draft framework for the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s, which included the lofty goal of finding a cure or a way to prevent the disease by 2025.
And in February, the Obama administration allocated a $156 million increase in funding for Alzheimer’s research and programs over the next two years.
While it’s encouraging to see a time-based goal and additional funding, it’s another thing to see a concrete plan to achieve these significant results.
The National Alzheimer’s Plan represents a pivotal moment for the federal government and the future of Alzheimer’s. Twenty-five years ago, the government didn’t back down to the challenges of AIDS and rising cancer rates. Instead, there was a clear response with appropriate funding, dedicated research and persistence, which drove the medical breakthroughs to treat these illnesses. In fact, this year, the National Institutes of Health allocates $6 billion to cancer research and $3.2 billion to AIDS research, while Alzheimer’s is allocated only $458 million.
Today, Alzheimer’s deserves the same fighting chance. Alzheimer’s disease needs a strong, fully defined action plan, complete with significant resource allocations and comprehensive federal funding. The timing of this is critical. By 2050, it’s estimated that 16 million people will have Alzheimer’s. This will result in crippling growth of our national Alzheimer’s-related health care costs, rising from $200 billion this year to $1 trillion. Medicare costs will increase nearly 600 percent and Medicaid nearly 400 percent.
Bottom line: It’s pay now or pay a bigger price later.
All Americans who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s have an opportunity to make a difference in the fight against this disease. The Alzheimer’s Association has created a petition that urges Obama to deliver a National Alzheimer’s Plan that drives federal commitment, action, accountability and results.
The petition for a strong National Alzheimer’s Plan can be signed at alz.org/petition.
The National Alzheimer’s Act will be finalized in early spring. The time for action is now.