Landmark legislation was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Jan. 4 with the passage of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act. This effort by the White House and Congress creates a coordinated national strategy to directly deal with Alzheimer’s, a brain-wasting condition.
This disease is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. However, of those diseases, Alzheimer’s is the only one without an effective way to prevent, cure or even slow the progress of the disease.
This law could not have arrived on the scene at a better time, since the number of Alzheimer’s cases has increased more than 50 percent from 2000 to 2007. Part of this phenomenon has to do with the mounting impact of baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965). Also, people today are living longer, thanks in large part to better science, advances in medicine and healthier habits.
But there is no way to misunderstand the potential economic burden that awaits in the years ahead: Under current conditions, total care costs could rise to $1 trillion by 2050, from $172 billion today.
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The National Alzheimer’s Project Act will lead to the creation of a better strategic plan to eventually overcome this epidemic. It will establish an interagency council to work with the secretary of Health and Human Services to give a full assessment of what needs to be done on multiple fronts, including care, research and support. The act is required to ensure strategic planning and coordination across the federal government as a whole.
Longtime Alzheimer’s researcher John Trojanowski, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center and head of Penn’s Institute on Aging, says this law “is huge ... it’s not putting the money in place yet, but having an Alzheimer’s czar will be transformative.”
He says, “A cure is a matter of the will of the American people ... the medical community has the targets, the ideas and the technologies ... but we don’t have the funds.” However, he believes even a drug that would stave off the disease for only five years would offer major economic and social relief.
Without a major financial commitment, Trojanowski is concerned about what the future will look like. He points to the homeless, in any community, with the mounting worry that the new homeless will be older, often demented individuals who can’t find their way anywhere, don’t know where they are and have no caregivers or guidance.
I have no doubt the communities of citizens and leaders in San Luis Obispo County have it within ourselves to do better than this. In the years I’ve resided in this county, I have never seen a shortage of ideas and solutions that didn’t translate into success for the greater good over the long run.
On the statewide scene, Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal through 2012 contains positive news for the near future. Funding will be maintained for the California Alzheimer’s Disease Program and Caregiver Resource Centers. We should acknowledge this in some fashion with our own local and state representatives, as well as the governor himself, and use this as a springboard for further advocacy and lobbying down the road and, especially, put a face on the collective numbers of people living with Alzheimer’s.
It is important to close with the numerical statistics of Alzheimer’s disease. Numbers that will be going up progressively faster next year and every year thereafter (in the absence of a cure):
Worldwide: 26 million people are suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Nationwide: 5.3 million people have Alzheimer’s.
Countywide (in San Luis Obispo): 6,000 people have Alzheimer’s.
Someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 70 seconds.
And we still have not found a cure or solution, but we are learning more. For more information, contact the Alzheimer’s Association – California Central Coast Chapter at 3480 South Higuera Street, Suite 120, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, 547-3830 or www.alz.org/CaCentralCoast.
Lee Ferrero was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease three years ago. He lives in Los Osos and was president of the Private Industry Council for 21 years before retiring in 2009.