Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Alzheimer's Association Advocates for Attention

A representative of the Alzheimer's Association, National Office asked if I could highlight the "looming public health epidemic" of Alzheimer's Disease, considering the political discussions that occur in Pennsylvania before our Primary Election, to be held on Tuesday, April 22, 2008. I invited their posting of an article here.

The article supplied demands attention to Alzheimer's Disease as a budgetary priority.

The article's posting is timely, due to the nationally-televised debate
between the Democratic Presidential candidates in Philadelphia at 8:00 pm on April 16, 2008, the "Compassionate Care" debate held last week at Messiah College (in Grantham, PA, near Harrisburg), and the visit to Pittsburgh by Senator John McCain on April 15th, among other stops here by candidates.

I have observed personally the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease and other dementia diseases. Such degenerative brain illnesses afflict many Pennsylvanians, whose families face burdensome costs of care and unpredictable interruptions in productivity, as well as deep psychological pain.

The article reposted below was forwarded to me by Daniel Morris,
an Operations Specialist in Consumer Marketing, at the Alzheimer's Association, National Office, 225 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1700, Chicago, IL 60601 (Information Hotline: 1-800-272-3900).

These are the affiliated Alzheimer's Association offices in Pennsylvania:
Because of our population demographics alone, this political issue -- funding of research into brain diseases and their treatment -- should be discussed in Pennsylvania when candidates are here.

For background about Pennsylvania's aging population,
see: PA EE&F Law Blog postings PA's "2020 VISION" Project: Part I (02/22/07) & PA's "2020 VISION" Project: Part II (02/23/07).
  • Pennsylvania currently ranks third in the nation in the percentage of people age 65 and older.
  • By 2020, one in every four Pennsylvanians will be 60 or older.
  • Pennsylvania ranks fourth among states in the number of people age 85 and older.
  • By 2020, that age group will increase by more than 40 percent.
This article was written by Jane Marks, who is the Executive Director of the Alzheimer's Association's West Virginia Chapter. I made minor edits. Jane can be reached at: jane.marks

This article was published originally on March 26, 2008, in the
Charleston (WV) Gazette.

An Approaching Epidemic:
Alzheimer's Research Underfunded

By Jane Marks

On March 18, the Alzheimer's Association released its latest collection of relevant data about all aspects of the disease and its impact, current and future, on this country. It is a devastating portrait of a looming public health epidemic, and includes this sobering fact: 10 million Baby Boomers will likely get Alzheimer's disease.

Because this developing health crisis is not being addressed by our national policymakers, the Association also took out full-page ads in three national newspapers to ask the three major presidential candidates -- Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama -- what they plan to do about Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's is a degenerative disease that kills the brain and eventually the person, and at this time, there are no effective treatments to stop its progression. Today, there are 78 million Baby Boomers who are going to start turning 65 in less than three years.

We're staring into the face of an epidemic, but we're ignoring it:
  • There are about 5 million Americans living with the disease and by mid-century, that number is expected to increase to as many as 16 million.
  • Every 71 seconds, someone in this country develops Alzheimer's and by 2050, the rate will be every 33 seconds.
  • Today, there are between 200,000 to 500,000 people under age 65 with young-onset Alzheimer's disease or other dementias.
  • Experts predict that by 2010, there will be almost a half-million new cases of Alzheimer's disease each year; and by 2050, there will be almost a million new cases per year.
  • The resulting growth in spending on Medicare and Medicaid will threaten the viability of these already-stressed public programs. We do not have the health infrastructure to support or care for the rising number of people with Alzheimer's.
We can change these facts, but not with the current proposed federal research budget that under-funds medical research. Researchers are close to finding effective treatments that can slow the progression of the disease, but they are not getting funds they need.

For the past five years, the National Institute of Health budget has been essentially flat. Compared to medical research inflation, NIH has actually lost 13 percent in purchasing power. The number of grants has declined significantly over this period; and young researchers are leaving the field.

New and effective treatments for Alzheimer's will not only save millions of Americans and their families from tragedy and threat to retirement security, but Medicare and Medicaid could yield savings of $60 billion annually if we find these treatments.

NIH underfunding is a trend that cannot continue with the next presidential administration and Congress. There is too much at stake. At this time, there is no national policy or strategy in place to deal with this 21st century public health threat.

As the presidential campaign focus comes to [Pennsylvania], I hope you will join me in asking Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama: If you are agents of change, you need to alter the course of Alzheimer's disease and make it a thing of the past.

What is your plan?
For more information about the advocacy efforts by the Alzheimer's Association, see: 2008 Election Advocacy on its website.