Letter: Investment needed to fight Alzheimer’s disease

By Francena Abendroth, M.D. /

November was National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and also National Caregiver Month. One way to both raise awareness about this devastating disease and honor those who care for people who have it is to ensure the goals outlined in the National Alzheimer’s Plan are achieved.

On a unanimous, bipartisan basis, Congress passed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act in late 2010. This required the creation of the annually updated, strategic National Alzheimer’s Plan, which was finalized in May 2012. The 2013 progress update on the plan can be found at http://aspe.hhs.gov/daltcp/napa/ NatlPlan2013.shtml.

In this plan, “Alzheimer’s disease,” refers to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Individuals with progressive dementia of any kind, and their families, face similar challenges in finding treatment for the disease and appropriate and necessary medical and supportive care.

The plan addresses five goals:

• Prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025;

• Optimize care quality and efficiency;

• Expand supports for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families;

• Enhance public awareness and engagement;

• Track progress and drive improvement.

To fulfill the promises embodied in the plan, members of Congress must continue the same collaborative approach they demonstrated when they passed NAPA and commit the necessary resources to accelerate and prioritize the government’s efforts on Alzheimer’s.

To make this happen, we need all elected officials to put aside partisan politics and focus on achieving a bipartisan agreement on the budget — which needs to include Alzheimer’s funding. The Senate prioritized the National Alzheimer’s Plan by including an additional $100 million for research, education, care and support. It is absolutely critical that Congress include these resources in fiscal year 2014.

If there is any question about the importance of Alzheimer’s funding, consider the following statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association.

• Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.;

• More than five million Americans are living with the disease;

• One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia;

• In 2013, Alzheimer’s will cost the nation $203 billion. This number is expected to rise to $1.2 trillion by 2050.

Providing care to people with Alzheimer’s disease costs Medicare and Medicaid $152 billion each year. If left unchecked, the costs to these two government programs will increase to more than $850 billion by 2050.

At the state level in Oregon, in 2012, more than 167,000 caregivers provided about 191 million hours of unpaid care (valued at $2.4 billion). Further, the higher health costs of Oregon caregivers totaled $96 million. These figures increased from 2011, when more than 166,000 caregivers in Oregon provided about 189 million hours of unpaid care (valued at $2.3 billion) and had higher health costs of $91 million.

Beyond dollars and cents, the emotional and physical toll Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias takes on caregivers (more than 15 million across the country, including the 167,000 in Oregon) cannot be quantified.

These friends and family members are anxiously awaiting strong implementation of the National Alzheimer’s Plan — they need bipartisan leadership from Congress and the White House to ensure that the resources necessary to change the trajectory of Alzheimer’s disease are committed.

Time is of the essence. We must begin today to fulfill the national strategy we now have and dedicate the necessary resources to ensure its successful implementation.

Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are on the budget conference committee that is tasked with crafting a budget agreement. We need them to work with the other conferees to make sure this important investment is included in the federal budget.

At the end of the day, Alzheimer’s does not care about one’s political affiliation; everyone is susceptible to this devastating disease. Truly, Alzheimer’s transcends party lines.

We urge our nation’s leaders to keep this in mind in the wake of National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month.

— Francena Abendroth, M.D., lives in Bend.