By Senator Maria Cantwell
Nearly every American knows someone who is impacted by a loved one grappling with Alzheimer’s disease, though many may not realize it. More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s and more than 15 million serve as caregivers for friends or family members afflicted with this disease.
This condition is unique in that it hurts not only the person living with Alzheimer’s, but also their caregivers. Elderly spousal caregivers have a 63% higher mortality rate than non-caregivers of the same age and other caregivers of all ages experience higher rates of depression, stress, and heart disease. In Washington state, Alzheimer’s is the 3rd leading cause of death for people 65 and older.
As the American population ages, the cost of Alzheimer’s to our country will climb from $236 billion a year today to possibly $1 trillion a year by mid-century, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The Medicare program, and ultimately taxpayers, will absorb many of these costs. To address the aging population and the even larger one looming in the distance, we must take decisive action.
That’s why I was proud to cosponsor the Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer’s Act and I am pleased that a similar policy has been included in the U.S. Senate’s Labor-HHS Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017. The HOPE Act would provide Medicare coverage for a care-management planning session to help those who have been newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and their families. This planning session would cover the intricacies of the diagnosis, the medical and non-medical options available for treatment and services, as well as information on how to obtain treatment, services, and support. The HOPE Act will make the care experience for Alzheimer’s patients and families more comprehensive and coordinated. It’s an approach that’s better for patients and better for our health care system as a whole.
The HOPE Act is an important step in the right direction to help families understand the full extent of this disease and their options as they move forward. But it isn’t enough. We must also continue the search for a cure, research and disseminate best practices for care, and study the hidden impacts of Alzheimer’s disease on patients, their loved ones, and their communities.
That is why I am pleased to report that the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, under the leadership of Senator Patty Murray, has increased funding for Alzheimer’s research at the National Institutes of Health. This money will provide grants funding to our nation’s brightest minds as they discover new treatments, new methods to deliver care, new impacts of this disease, and hopefully, a cure.
America’s past has been forged by leaders coming together to tackle great challenges using creativity and collaboration. Our future should be no different. Every person who has witnessed first-hand the impacts of Alzheimer’s disease knows the ache of watching a loved one disappear. By increasing the amount of resources available for researchers, we in Congress can support hopes for a cure. The Alzheimer’s support community believes in a future worth fighting for and I am proud to be part of this cause.
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can transform our loved ones into strangers. Our love for them will never waver even as they change before our eyes. By funding the basic research that could make a cure possible, and by promoting care planning for patients and families, we recommit ourselves to them and to a future that will be free of this pernicious disease.