By Representative Dave Reichert
Imagine watching your loved one slowly begin to lose his or her memory until they are eventually unable to hold a conversation or respond to their environment – and aside from treatment to prolong the deterioration, there is nothing you could do about it. Your loved one has Alzheimer’s.
Tragically, two thirds of American women will face Alzheimer’s disease and one in three seniors will succumb to Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. These numbers are not slowing and according to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 67 seconds another person in the United States develops Alzheimer’s.
Whether you are a Republican, Democrat or nonpolitical, this is a reality that none of us should live with. Like cancer every American is likely to know someone close to them who is or will suffer from Alzheimer’s but unlike cancer, the disease is overwhelmingly under diagnosed. Only 45 percent of people with Alzheimer’s have been educated about their condition, whereas 90%of people with the most common types of cancer have been told about their disease.
While Congress cannot find a cure for Alzheimer’s by passing a bill, we can work to better ensure that Alzheimer’s patients receive a proper diagnoses and that more funding is directed to treating and eventually finding a cure for this debilitating disease.
The need to strengthen funding for Alzheimer’s research has become increasingly clear with reports showing one in five Medicare dollars are spent treating patients with Alzheimer’s. Not only is there a strong demand for care, but treatment is expensive. In fact, Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America and over the next 20 years it will cost the nation $20 trillion, with about 60 percent of those costs borne by Medicare. If there was a treatment that could delay onset of the disease by even five years, Medicare spending on Alzheimer’s would reduce by 45 percent in 2050.
Since coming to Congress I have fought to increase funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by leading a bipartisan letter to the House Appropriations Committee urging them to provide the NIH with strong funding for medical research. I was proud to support the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act that includes a much needed boost in NIH funding. The legislation increase NIH funding by $2 billion which will go a long way towards advancing new cures and treatments, and includes $350 million set aside specifically for Alzheimer’s research.
Despite this recent increase in NIH funding, there is still more to be done. With my support, the 21st Century Cures Act passed the House of Representatives. This bill not only calls for more robust funding but would also ease regulatory burdens to help spur innovation and new discoveries to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease. We must also ensure that patients and caregivers are given an accurate and timely diagnosis so healthcare professionals can coordinate their care. I am a proud cosponsor of the HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act because while the bill may not prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, it will provide access to information on care and support for newly diagnosed individuals and their families, and improve the quality of care for patients and their caregivers.
While a cure for Alzheimer’s is still yet to be found, ignoring the issue will only prolong the day when former Alzheimer’s patients can say “I’m cured.” Until that day comes, we must continue to focus our efforts on improving the quality of life for the countless Americans who are suffering from this debilitating disease.