Sunday, August 11, 2013

Alzheimer's ... Our New Cancer?

A few weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control reported that “the number of cancer survivors in the United States nearly quadrupled from 1971 to 2007.”  CDC noted that there were 11.7 million cancer survivors during those years due to “earlier detection, improved diagnostic methods, and more effective treatment,” among other reasons.  Much of the credit is due to research funded by the National Institutes of Health over many years.  However, no one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) has ever been able to report being Alzheimer’s-free.   Furthermore, according to CDC, “about 1.1 million of the (cancer) survivors had lived with the diagnosis for more than 25 years.”  CDC cannot report any AD survivors who have lived for 25 years. There are none.

AD is the sixth leading cause of death in this country, and the only one of the top ten causes of death with no means of prevention or cure.  AD is also the fastest growing cause of death in this country.  More than 5 million Americans have already been diagnosed with AD, and with so many baby boomers turning 65 each day this number is expected to triple over the next 30-40 years. 

Our country faces a huge health crisis with AD that will greatly increase costs to taxpayers in the years ahead. According to Maine Senator Susan Collins, “We spend one penny on research for every dollar the federal government spends on care for patients with Alzheimer’s.  That just doesn’t make any sense.”  Dr. Stanley Prusiner, director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases at UC, San Francisco, recently stated that “Alzheimer’s is a cancer sized problem requiring a cancer sized solution.  Yet, to date the Alzheimer’s field is grossly underfunded, at a level of less than 10% that of cancer.”  This year, NIH will fund more than $6 billion on cancer research … but less than $500 million for AD research.  NIH will also spend $3 billion on HIV-AIDS research this year, more than six times the money that will be spent on Alzheimer’s research.  Yet, according to a recent issue of Time Magazine, “The numbers of people living with HIV have leveled off while the rates of deaths and new infections have fallen.”  The number of deaths attributable to HIV declined 29% between 2000-2008.  But according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s recent report, “2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures,” during this same time period the number of deaths attributable to AD rose 66%,

Long term care for Alzheimer’s patients already costs this country nearly $200 billion a year.  According to Senator Collins, “If nothing is done to slow or stop the disease, Alzheimer’s will cost the United States $20 trillion over the next 40 years.  The average annual Medicare payment for an individual with Alzheimer’s is three times higher than for those without the condition.”  And according to Dr. Prunsiner, for Medicaid patients, “the costs of an Alzheimer’s beneficiary are nine times that of a non-Alzheimer’s beneficiary.”    

My wife has AD.  Symptoms started appearing at age 59 and she was officially diagnosed at age 63.  No treatment or cure will arrive in time for her.  But if our country begins to devote more funding for AD research as we have for cancer … or even as we have for HIV/AIDS … then perhaps one day people will be able to say that they have lived with this diagnosis for 25 years … and are AD survivors. 
Published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, December, 2011, Vol. 59, No. 12, pp. 2396-97. Access at:





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