The size and scope of Alzheimer’s is now nearly on par with cancer. That’s the big takeaway from a new study published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Neurology by researchers at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago.
The study found more than 503,000 deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s disease in 2010, a number six times the size reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that same year.
Another recently released report from the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP), as mentioned in the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2014 Facts & Figures, cites an even higher number of annual deaths with dementia at nearly 600,000. This makes Alzheimer’s the third-largest killer in America, just behind heart disease and cancer.
What’s more is the fact that the cost of Alzheimer’s has already surpassed both cancer and heart disease, according to a recent report by the RAND Institute. Despite this, we have not invested the same level of resources toward Alzheimer’s — which is projected to triple in size in the coming years — as we have to other disease like cancer or HIV/AIDS.
Currently, Alzheimer’s receives around $550 million in funding compared to cancer, which receives nearly $6 billion in funding each year; and the results have been noticeable. Whereas Alzheimer’s drug development has made virtually no progress in more than a decade, we’ve seen huge breakthroughs in cancer that have saved money, and more importantly, countless lives. Even more dramatic has been the remarkable progress against HIV/AIDS, where annual deaths have plummeted because of our $3 billion-per-year of research investments.
These reports make it abundantly clear that with more than half a million lives at stake each year, we need a new sense of urgency and an investment in research for Alzheimer’s that is in line with the size and scope of the problem.
By 2050, nearly 14 million Americans will suffer from Alzheimer’s at a cost of more than $1 trillion annually. In other words, we have the choice to make an investment now to prevent that from happening or risk bankrupting Medicare and Medicaid, which shoulders the majority of the burden of the disease.
Florida, with twice the national rate of dementia per capita due to our age distribution, will be hit particularly hard.
Although the recent federal funding boost that Alzheimer’s received early this year was a step forward, it still fell far short of the investment required to stop this disease before it spirals out of control. In Florida, state Rep. Matt Hudson and Sen. Garrett Richter are taking the lead by proposing a first-of-its-kind state research grants program against Alzheimer’s, joining those targeting cancer and tobacco-related disease. But $3 million will not be enough.
As budget talks kick off in Washington, it’s critical that Congress doubles funding for Alzheimer’s research, as recommended by the Administration’s Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care and Services. The goal is $2 billion annually. Equally critical, Florida needs to step forward, start its research grants program and fund it adequately.
As the director of the National Institute on Aging recently reported, without a continued commitment to increase Alzheimer’s research funding, we will not meet the nation’s goal of stopping Alzheimer’s by 2025. That raises not just the possibility of a delay in treatment, but more and more lives lost to a horrific disease that destroys families and steals the victim’s memory, dignity and, ultimately, identity.
As a scientist researching Alzheimer’s for 30 years, I am convinced we are very close to meaningful treatments. The science is there; please help us get the resources to prove the science correct and make Alzheimer’s a memory.
David Morgan, Ph.D., is CEO of USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute in Tampa, and lead representative of the Researcher sAgainstAlzheimer’s Network.