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Tulsa World: Alzheimer's disease is everyone's challenge

November 30, 2015
News Stories

Tulsa World - Jackie Kouri

Everyone with a brain is at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It’s that simple, and that dire.

Some 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s with a crushing 500,000 new cases added every year. Taking even more than precious memories and identities, Alzheimer’s is taking lives, killing more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, a guaranteed death sentence every single time. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death and is unmatched in the scale of its devastating human and economic impact, yet is the only disease in the top 10 causes of death with no way to prevent, cure or even slow it. While death rates of all other major diseases have significantly decreased over recent years, deaths from Alzheimer’s have skyrocketed by 71 percent.

Women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s in alarming ways. Women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s in their lifetime as they are to develop breast cancer. Nearly two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s — 3.2 million Americans — are women. And almost two-thirds of all Alzheimer’s and other dementia caregivers — nearly 10 million Americans — are women.

The economic toll of Alzheimer’s is staggering. Already the most expensive disease in America, Alzheimer’s costs are set to soar exponentially like no other disease. In 2015 it costs our nation $226 billion to care for people with Alzheimer’s, a cost of nearly $17.5 million per hour to American taxpayers. An onerous two-thirds of that cost is borne by Medicare and Medicaid, with nearly one in every five Medicare dollars spent on Alzheimer’s. By 2050 with the aging of 76 million baby boomers, it will grow to one in every three Medicare dollars with the nation’s total cost skyrocketing to $1.1 trillion. America’s bankruptcy is in the making from this single disease.

November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, and the Alzheimer’s Association is committed 24/7 to being the brains behind saving yours.

A treatment delaying Alzheimer’s onset by just five years means that in 2050 5.7 million Americans expected to develop Alzheimer’s would not and America would save $367 billion with Medicare saving its share of those billions. The world’s scientists say this can happen with a $2 billion federal research investment compared to the current $586 million. A $2 billion investment that is calculated to be recouped in the first three years after a treatment is available — not a bad return on investment.

This year could be momentous because Alzheimer’s Association voices are being heard on Capitol Hill through leadership right here in Oklahoma. Republican Rep. Tom Cole, Fourth District, is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds the National Institutes of Health, which in turn funds federal Alzheimer’s research. Through Cole’s leadership, the Appropriations Committee passed $300 million in new Alzheimer’s research funding without exceeding budget limits overall. The Senate followed suit with a $350 million proposal. If Congress follows Cole’s recommendation and passes the funding, it will include the largest of three consecutive annual increases for Alzheimer’s research. If signed into law, this will dramatically change the Alzheimer’s research landscape by fueling a new round of innovative studies.

Oklahoma Reps. Jim Bridenstine, Frank Lucas and Cole, plus Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, are committed cosponsors of important federal Alzheimer’s legislation for which we are profoundly grateful.

Alzheimer’s numbers are overwhelming and imbalanced. You can help change those numbers:

1. Reach out to your federal legislators asking them to support at least $300 million in increased funding for Alzheimer’s research.

2. Go to alz.org and click Join the Cause to lend your voice in a number of ways. Meanwhile, make use of the Alzheimer’s Association’s array of no-charge programs for yourself or loved ones at alz.org. Together we can elevate Alzheimer’s to the national priority it demands.

This column is the first part of the Tulsa World’s Aging Oklahoma series, a look at the social and personal challenges of the aging baby boom generation. Jackie Kouri lives in Tulsa. She is a member of the national board of directors for the Alzheimer’s Association, the largest private funder of Alzheimer’s research.

Online: Tulsa World