Many of us know a loved one who has faced Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a wrenching experience — watching them slowly slip away, trying to be a source of comfort and companionship, even as a cure remains painfully out of reach. Alzheimer’s has come to be known as the “long goodbye,” a disease that gradually takes its toll on millions of people in Minnesota and across the country every year.
As one of the leading causes of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia claim more than 500,000 lives per year. Right now, there are close to 5.2 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, including nearly 100,000 right here in Minnesota. In 2013, more than 15 million family members and friends cared for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.
Most troubling, this problem is projected to grow dramatically in coming years as the baby boomer generation ages. By 2050, it is estimated that 13.5 million Americans will be living with Alzheimer’s—nearly triple the number of people affected today.
The financial costs of providing care for those afflicted is staggering. Whether the expenses cover treatment, hospice, or long-term care, they can take an enormous toll on family and government budgets. This year alone, we will spend $226 billion caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. By 2050, that number is projected to reach an astronomic $1.1 trillion.
Of course, these numbers don’t tell the most important part of the story, that of the countless families shattered by Alzheimer’s and the enormous toll it takes on those living with the disease. Each of their experiences remind us that now is the time to stem the tide against this horrific disease.
We can start by making investments in cutting-edge research today that will make a difference tomorrow. We need to make sure there are dedicated scientists, advanced research initiatives, and skilled doctors with the resources to conduct trials and care for patients until we finally find a cure.
That is why I have joined with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to call on Congress to make the necessary investments. We are pushing to make combating Alzheimer’s a top national priority, including doubling the research funding by 2016 with a goal of developing effective treatments by 2025. This funding will build on the momentum and cutting-edge research already being done at great institutions such as the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic.
Exciting medical advancements hold the promise of revolutionizing the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. We have already begun to see extraordinary results in precision medicine approaches that tailor prevention and treatment by taking into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle in other diseases, and related research for Alzheimer’s is currently underway.
These investments make sense because we know that they will pay off. For example, simply delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years would significantly cut the government’s spending on care and most importantly, give people more time with their loved ones.
But medical research is only part of the solution. We also need to develop policies to help caregivers meet the challenges of caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s. That’s why my Americans Giving Care to Elders Act would give family caregivers a tax credit and other assistance to help alleviate the financial burdens that come with caring for a loved one.
Alzheimer’s disease presents one of the toughest medical, economic and social challenges facing our country. Solutions to problems this vast and devastating aren’t going to just fall out the sky. Instead, we need decisive and bold action that will bring the possibility for a cure within reach and finally end this horrific disease.