In February 2012, President Obama announced that he will boost funding for research on Alzheimer’s disease by $130 million (a 25% increase over the next two years).
I applaud his intent but the effort is weak.
5.4 million people in the U.S. are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and the problem will only get worse. Every 68 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s in the United States and by mid-century it will increase to 33 seconds. If you are privileged to be 65 years old or older, it will be your 5th leading cause of death by disease. If you 85 years old or older you have a 50% chance of getting the disease. Here is the Whopper — currently about $200 Billion is spent on Alzheimer’s care and over the next 40 years the disease will cost Americans $20 Trillion. That’s right (that is Trillion with a “T”).
So increasing funding by 25% is akin to putting a penny in front of a full on fire hose and expecting the water to stop flowing.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s does not get the kind of press that Cancer or AIDS does. Some would say that is because it’s a disease of the elderly. Others add that the elderly have led their life; we can’t spend valuable money on people who will probably die of some other illness if they didn’t have Alzheimer’s. Well maybe, or maybe this is the first step towards better longevity for Americans in general.
Keep in mind that there are 200,000 people with early on-set dementia (people who develop the disease before the age of 65). A friend contacted me about his wife. She was 50 years old, an incredible beach volleyball player, ran a marathon 3 months earlier, and BAM!, she was diagnosed with early on-set dementia. When we met, shortly after her diagnosis, she looked like she could be a cover girl for a women’s health magazine. Two years later she can’t feed herself. This is getting more common than we would like to admit.
I watched my own mother develop Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. She was pulling slot machines and dancing the night away on her 80th birthday in Las Vegas. Then, two years later at the age of 82, she was ravaged by the disease and a resident in the assisted living company I own. I have seen thousands suffer with Alzheimer’s through the course of my career in senior housing. This disease not only cripples the person to the point that their own brain can’t tell the lungs to breath or the throat to swallow, it has much larger ramifications. This disease at some point hits the “Delete Button” on your life. You have no memories, no history, no relationships….no YOU. The victim is not the only person who has the disease, it affects all those that have loved them and shared their life.
It is time that we stop thinking about this as an “old person’s disease” and start thinking about it as a disease with incredible ramifications for quality of life. We have to pull our heads out of the sand on this one because soon enough you and I will be that old person.