As someone whose family has experienced the pain of Alzheimer’s many times, I know that there is no more helpless feeling than to watch the progression of this devastating disease. More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease—including about 30,000 people in my home state of Maine. This number has doubled since 1980 and is expected to reach up to 16 million by the year 2050, when an estimated 15 percent of Americans age 65 and older will have the condition. This disease takes a tremendous personal and economic toll on both the individual and the family.
Moreover, Alzheimer’s currently costs the United States $172 billion a year, primarily in nursing home and other longterm care costs. This figure will increase exponentially as the baby boom generation ages and is expected to top $1 trillion a year by 2050, according to a recent report by the Alzheimer’s Association.
As baby boomers move into the years of highest risk for Alzheimer’s disease, a strong and sustained research effort is our best tool to slow the progression and prevent the onset of this disease. Our investments in Alzheimer’s have begun to pay dividends. Effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease are tantalizingly within our grasp. Unfortunately, however, while the number of Alzheimer cases has continued to climb, funding has been ﬂat over the past five years and research is underfunded. For every dollar the federal government spends today on the costs of Alzheimer care, it invests less than a penny in research to find a cure.
We must increase our investment in Alzheimer research. We have made tremendous progress, but this is no time to take our foot off the accelerator. That is why, as the Senate co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, I am an original cosponsor of the Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act. This bipartisan legislation would increase the funding for Alzheimer research at the National Institutes of Health to $2 billion, demonstrating the level of commitment warranted to advance the treatment and ultimately prevention of this disease.
This legislation would also provide much needed support for people with Alzheimer’s and their families by increasing funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program and by providing a tax credit of up to $3,000 to help families meet the costs of caring for a loved one. In addition to the terrible personal toll of Alzheimer’s, this disease can devastate a family economically. These families need and deserve our help.
Along with Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), I have also authored bipartisan legislation, the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, to create the country’s first national office responsible for leading government efforts to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The National Alzheimer’s Project Office would coordinate and oversee federal research to develop a plan to combat the disease and to eventually develop a cure. Our nation needs a more effective, coordinated national strategy aimed at preventing, delaying and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, and this legislation represents a critical step toward that goal. This legislation follows through on a key recommendation from the Alzheimer’s Study Group.
Together, we have come a long way, but we have farther to go. I will continue to work with my colleagues to implement a national strategy that will move us forward in our battle against Alzheimer’s.