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The Urgent Need for Alzheimer’s Research Funding

Jessica Gwinn
By Jessica GwinnJanuary 16, 2017

In American culture, there seems to be an inclination towards ignoring the problems of the aging population. But it’s damaging to ignore what goes along with aging, and especially to overlook diseases that affect our senior population — like Alzheimer’s.

The sixth leading cause of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease will continue to claim lives as Baby Boomers move into retirement age. So why isn’t there more dedicated to curing or preventing this debilitating disease? Read on to learn about the urgent need for Alzheimer’s research funding.

Alzheimer’s, the Fastest Growing Disease in the U.S.

Alzheimer’s care costs $236 billion each year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. As Baby Boomers age, we’re looking at a massive problem that’s only going to increase.

The number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s is estimated to reach 7.1 million by 2025, a 40% increase from the 5 million age 65 and older currently affected. By 2050, the number of people 65 and older with Alzheimer’s is projected to nearly triple, to 13.8 million, unless treatments or cures are developed, according to Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.

Vice President of Early Alzheimer’s Research and Scientific Affairs for the BrightFocus Foundation, Guy Eakin, states:

“The total U.S. healthcare cost for Alzheimer’s is expected to grow to $1.1 trillion per year by 2050.”

There’s no better time than now to create a shift in focus, and to help others understand the immense impact these numbers are going to have on our society in the years to come.

Meryl Comer, a seasoned broadcast journalist, President of the Geoffrey Beene Foundation Alzheimer’s Initiative and a long-term caregiver to her husband who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 58, said in an interview with A Place for Mom:

“We need to wage a war on Alzheimer’s, just as we did with cancer. We need options around the disease. Baby boomers need to say the disease is ‘unacceptable for our future.”

Comer continues by begging the question, “How can the government spend 200 billion dollars annually on care and less than 1% on Alzheimer’s research? We need to be on the fast track for therapies like HIV/AIDS and cancer.”

Lack of Funding Prevents Important Work

As passionate about finding answers, possible cures and treatment options as most research scientists are, without proper funding they simply can’t afford to take on the work.

In a survey, biomedical scientists doing early stage drug development for Alzheimer’s raised concerns that research funding is disproportionately low and risks putting labs developing treatments for the neurological disease in funding limbo.

The survey showed that 94% of scientists said a lack of federal funding for eye and brain disease research is impeding scientific discoveries and 91% said that this is driving scientists from the field. The concern is that the funding challenges faced even by labs that have received funding in the past will deter future generations of scientists from pursuing research and instead opt for careers that command better salaries and maybe less stress.

Funding data from the National Institutes of Health shows that:

  • Funding for Alzheimer’s research has wavered between $412 million to an estimated $449 million in 2013
  • AIDS research, by comparison, has gone from $2.9 billion to $3 billion in the same time period
  • Cancer research has gone from $5.5 billion to $5.4 billion
  • Cardiovascular disease research has remained at $2 billion

There’s Still Much to be Done

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced $45 million in grants for research to find therapies for Alzheimer’s, and includes $40 million from the Office of the NIH Director, Francis Collins. Additional funding will come from the National Institute on Aging.

“Alzheimer’s robs [people] of their memories, their independence and ultimately, their lives,” Collins said in a statement. “We are determined, even in a time of constrained fiscal resources, to capitalize on exciting scientific opportunities to advance understanding of Alzheimer’s biology and find effective therapies as quickly as possible.”

One of the projects that the funding will support is the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative APOE4 Trial with the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. This five-year trial will test an anti-amyloid drug in cognitively healthy adults, ages 60-75, who are at increased risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s. They inherited two copies of the APOE4 allele, a major genetic risk factor.

Facing a future filled with aging Boomers and a lack of funding, it’s hard to imagine where we’ll be in terms of finding a cure in the next decade. The government’s assertion that it will find a cure by 2025 feels like a daunting, not to mention, far off task.

So what can be done? As caregivers, we can begin by advocating for our loved ones and giving them a voice that they cannot give themselves. Together, we can share our stories and speak out to help ease and, ultimately, eliminate the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s. We can also support one another with a strong and unified goal of finding a cure through greater awareness about the devastating effects of this disease.

Each and every one of us will be touched by Alzheimer’s in one way or another in our lifetime. The time to speak out is now.

Will you share your stories and support the greater community so that more important Alzheimer’s research can be done? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Jessica Gwinn

Jessica Gwinn

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