More than 5 million Americans, including 37,000 people right here in Maine, suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is also one of our nation’s leading causes of death, with recent data revealing that each year more than 500,000 deaths are attributable to Alzheimer’s and other dementias – six times the amount previously estimated.
Alzheimer’s is the only one of our nation’s deadliest diseases without an effective means of prevention, treatment, or a cure. In addition to the human suffering it causes, Alzheimer’s is our nation’s most expensive disease, costing the United States more than $226 billion a year, including $153 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. These costs will skyrocket as the baby boom generation ages.
Virtually every family in the United States has been touched by Alzheimer’s. Combatting this terrible disease requires a unified national effort that transcends politics.
At a time when the United States is spending more than $200 billion a year to care for Alzheimer’s patients, we are spending just four percent of that amount on research. Although the Administration and Congress have made some progress in increasing funding, Alzheimer’s research funding remains disproportionately low compared to its human and economic toll. Indeed, similarly deadly diseases receive annual funding of $2 billion, $3 billion, and even $5.6 billion for research, which has paid dividends.
In his recent State of the Union Address, President Obama expressed his support for increasing investment in biomedical research for diseases like Alzheimer’s, noting that it is an issue that draws broad, bipartisan consensus. For this reason, at the end of January, Senator Klobuchar and I led a bipartisan letter to the President urging him to boost our current investment in Alzheimer’s research as part of his budget request for fiscal year 2017. Our letter was signed by seven of our Senate colleagues, from states across the country and both sides of the political aisle.
In our letter, we note that the spending bill passed by Congress late last year takes a major step forward by providing a $350 million increase for Alzheimer’s disease research funding. That was the largest increase for Alzheimer’s research funding in history, bringing the total amount available for Alzheimer’s disease research to $936 million – a more than 50 percent increase. This is almost half-way to the goal of $2 billion-a-year, the amount experts say is needed to prevent or effectively treat Alzheimer’s by 2025. This represents considerable progress, and we encouraged the President to build on this accomplishment by proposing a further increase toward the $2 billion goal as part of his budget.
Our letter states that if nothing is done to change the trajectory of Alzheimer’s, the number of Americans afflicted with this disease is expected to more than triple by 2050. By then, what is already our nation’s costliest disease is projected to cost our country more than $1 trillion each year.
Investments in research for other diseases have yielded tremendous results: patients have access to new treatments, and death rates for some diseases are decreasing. Yet, at the same time, mortality due to Alzheimer’s is escalating dramatically. Fortunately, there is promising research that holds hope for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. The research community is poised to make important advances through clinical trials and investigating new therapeutic targets, but adequate funding is critical to advance this research.
Surely, we can do more for Alzheimer’s given the tremendous human and economic price of this devastating disease. I look forward to working with the Administration to support efforts to meet the goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer's by 2025.