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Confronting Alzheimer's

June 15, 2020
Weekly Columns

June marks Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, which serves as a reminder of the need to slow down, prevent and ultimately cure terrible diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than five million Americans are suffering with some form of dementia, and it is estimated that one in every three seniors die as a result. Throughout this month, we recognize the need for disease research to find clues and answers, but we also think of those we know – or have known – afflicted with the slow-killing disease. My family, like many others across the country, knows the heartbreaking decline that takes place in those suffering with Alzheimer’s all too well.

As Father’s Day approaches, I am remembering good memories and lessons learned from my dad, but I am also sadly thinking of the battle he lost his life to due to Alzheimer’s disease. During the last several years of my father’s life, my family watched helplessly and with heavy hearts as he became a different person and slowly lost a lifetime of memories throughout the various stages of the disease.

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 and how it progresses. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in America. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s cases are currently on track to increase dramatically as the “baby boomer” generation gets older. By 2050, it is projected that the number of Americans, 65 and older, with Alzheimer’s could reach 13.8 million.

Alzheimer’s is also credited as the most expensive disease in the United States, straining both public and private budgets. In fact, Alzheimer’s and other dementias are estimated to cost the nation approximately $305 billion this year alone. Along the current trajectory, the cost of Alzheimer’s and other dementias is projected to eclipse $1.1 trillion by 2050 – barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or cure Alzheimer’s disease.

Due to this runaway trajectory, I have always prioritized dedicated funding for Alzheimer’s disease research with the hope that we can unlock the mysterious cause of the disease, slow and stop its onset and ultimately find a cure. Since 2016, I am proud that Republicans in Congress have led the charge to increase federal funding to study this disease. In fact, while I was chairman of the appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the National Institutes of Health, I helped secure historic funding increases for dedicated Alzheimer’s research – quadrupling federal support from $600 million a year to $2.4 billion. While I continue to serve on that same subcommittee as the top Republican, I remain dedicated to building on this momentum and working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to secure further incremental increases.

Last month, I was proud to cosponsor the Promoting Alzheimer’s Awareness to Prevent Elder Abuse Act. This bipartisan legislation would require the Department of Justice to develop training materials to assist professionals supporting victims of abuse who are living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. While reports show that 62 percent of those with Alzheimer’s experience mental or physical abuse, law enforcement, medical professionals and legal professionals who deal with elder abuse have little knowledge and understanding about interacting with those with dementia. This important piece of legislation would provide much needed Alzheimer’s and dementia-specific training materials and resources to help those experiencing abuse and, more importantly, prevent abuse from happening in the first place.

As we continue to work on funding for the government in the upcoming fiscal year, I anticipate building on the significant progress already made to confront Alzheimer’s and improve the quality of life for those with dementia. Certainly, if we can do more than treat symptoms and actually find solutions, the entire nation will be better off.