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Combating Alzheimer’s

June 24, 2019
Weekly Columns

June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month, which marks an important time to talk about the widespread challenges facing our society due to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Indeed, these mysterious diseases have impacted all of us, whether we have had a family member or a friend suffer and tragically pass away as a result. My family understands firsthand how exceedingly difficult it is to watch someone you love helplessly deteriorate because of dementia. It was heartbreaking to see my own father suffer and worsen through the various stages of Alzheimer's during the last several years of his life.

While Alzheimer’s disease is all too familiar and personal for many American families, there is still a lot we don’t know about its cause or why it rapidly progresses. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in America and the fifth among seniors. Alzheimer’s is also credited as the most expensive disease in the United States, straining both public and private dollars. In fact, Alzheimer’s and other dementias are estimated to cost the nation approximately $290 billion this year alone. Along the current trajectory, the cost of Alzheimer’s and other dementias is projected to eclipse $1 trillion by 2050. But that estimate doesn’t account for the human cost, including decline in the health of family members who often serve as caretakers and take on the immense physical and emotional burden that comes with that job.

With the “baby boomers” generation getting older, it is imperative that we find a way to slow down Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia before more seniors fall victim. Ultimately, finding a cure is the goal. In the meantime, it is critical that we discover ways to slow down dementia and the various symptoms. If we can stall the progression of dementia by even a few years, we can deliver enormous financial and emotional savings for society. I have long believed that the best chance we have at slowing down dementia is through disease research. Unfortunately, the cost of caregiving still exceeds the amount dedicated to this research.

Though strides have been made in recent years, there is still room to do more. And since fiscal year 2016, I am proud that Republicans in Congress have led the charge to increase government funding for research devoted to finding solutions for Alzheimer’s. While I was chairman of the appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I helped secure historic funding increases for dedicated Alzheimer’s research. As I serve on that same panel as the top Republican, I remain committed to building on this momentum and working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to secure incremental increases.

Indeed, this is an issue that transcends partisanship, and I am encouraged that Republicans and Democrats agree on the merits of funding for Alzheimer’s research. As lawmakers in Congress work on funding for fiscal year 2020, I will continue to push for research funding for combating Alzheimer’s and other brutal forms of dementia. Together, we can defeat dementia once and for all.