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SPOTLIGHT
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Defeating Alzheimer's disease

Published on -3/6/2014, 3:49 PM

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Every 68 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimer's disease -- a devastating and irreversible brain disease that slowly destroys an individual's cognitive functioning, including memory and thought. Alzheimer's affects more than 5.2 million people in the United States and more than 35.6 million worldwide. As the population ages, the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's after age 65 will double every five years, while the number of individuals 85 years and older with this disease will triple by 2050.

These statistics provide a much-needed Alzheimer's reality check; this terrible disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and there is no diagnostic test, no treatment and no cure.

The U.S. Senate recently had a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee on the devastating effects of Alzheimer's -- both personal and economic -- and the state of research initiatives. I invited my friend and former colleague, Congressman Dennis Moore of Lenexa, to share his personal testimony at the hearing. Moore was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in June 2011, after serving Kansas' Third District from 1999 to 2011.

"An epidemic is upon us, and too many families are in situations like mine facing a fatal disease that currently has no way to prevent, cure or even slow its progression," Moore told the committee.

I asked my friend what health care professionals are telling him he can do about his diagnosis. Dennis responded, "Basically to take the medication that they diagnosed for me ... and also to get some exercise, which I try to do on a daily basis. My wife very much encourages me to do that. I'm a smart husband, I say, 'Yes, dear.' "

I truly appreciate Moore's willingness to testify before the Senate on behalf of the thousands of Americans and people around the world who have encountered Alzheimer's disease. The way he is living his life gives others courage and hope, and I commend him and his wife, Stephanie, for their continued public service.

As a nation, it is critical we confront the pending Alzheimer's health care crisis and its financial costs as the baby-boomer generation ages. Caring for those with Alzheimer's and other dementia is expected to cost $203 billion this year, with $142 billion covered by the federal government through Medicare and Medicaid. A study by the RAND Corp. stated the cost of dementia care is projected to double during the next 30 years, surpassing health care expenses for both heart disease and cancer.

Without a way to prevent, cure or effectively treat Alzheimer's, it will be difficult -- if not impossible -- to rein in our nation's health care costs. Alzheimer's has become a disease to define a generation, but if we focus and prioritize our research capacity, it does not need to continue as an inevitable part of aging.

It is time to truly commit to defeating this disease in the next decade. Yet, for every $270 Medicare and Medicaid spends caring for individuals with Alzheimer's, the federal government spends only $1 on Alzheimer's research. Research suggests more progress could be made with a boost in investment. One study found a breakthrough against Alzheimer's that delays the onset of the disease by five years would mean an annual savings of $447 billion by 2050.

A sustained federal commitment to research for Alzheimer's will lower costs and improve health outcomes for people living with the disease today and in the future. As Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the National Institute of Health, I am committed to prioritizing funding for Alzheimer's research.

Last year, the omnibus appropriations bill increased funding for the NIH by $100 million to support Alzheimer's research, and supported the initial year of funding for the new initiative to map the human brain. Both projects will increase our understanding of the underlying causes of Alzheimer's, unlock the mysteries of the makeup and functioning of the brain, and bring us closer to effective treatments and one day -- hopefully -- a cure.

Alzheimer's is a defining challenge of our generation. We must commit to a national goal to defeat this devastating disease during the next decade by supporting the critical research carried out by the scientists and researchers across our nation supported by the NIH. The health and financial future of our nation are at stake, and the United States cannot afford to ignore such a threat. Together, we can make a sustained commitment to Alzheimer's research that will benefit our nation and bring hope to future generations of Americans. The challenge is ours, and the moment to act is now.

Republican Jerry Moran represents Kansas in the U.S. Senate.

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