Congress Takes On Alzheimer’s Disease

The number of diagnosed cases of Alzheimer’s has doubled in the past thirty years and it is expected to triple by 2050. The disease characterized by mild memory loss in the beginning stages and progressing to debilitating dementia is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, causing great concern. So much concern, that Congress voted unanimously to approve the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (N.A.P.A.) and President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law. The legislation was authored by Edward J. Markey, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, and Christopher H. Smith, a republican congressman from New Jersey. The act will bring together government efforts to develop treatments and preventative medicine for Alzheimer’s.

The project would fall under the purview of the Department of Health and Human Services and would include representatives from
the National Institutes of Health, Department of Veterans Affairs, the Food and Drug Administration, the Indian Health Service, and the Centers for Disease Control. Additionally, health care providers, caregivers, and scientific experts would also be included on the panel. The goal is to fight Alzheimer’s disease with the same passion given to the fight against AIDS and cancer. A concerted effort by government to attack certain diseases such as Polio and AIDS has already proven effective.

However, Alzheimer’s patients are not the only victims of the disease. The caregivers, currently totaling about eleven million, are also victims. Many times caregivers put themselves in financial distress as well as risk their jobs in order to provide the time-consuming care an Alzheimer’s patient needs. Additionally, the sheer exhaustion that comes from caring for their family member can put the caregiver’s health in jeopardy.

The cost of treating Alzheimer’s patients is exorbitant. This year alone Medicare and Medicaid paid out approximately $170 billion for patient care. If the number of Alzheimer’s cases does triple by 2050 as expected, the cost of care is expected to sky rocket to $800 billion a year. For every dollar the government spends on the treatment and care of Alzheimer’s patients, there is currently only one penny being spent on research for the disease. Most scientists agree that diagnosis of the disease during the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s is the key to preventing its progression.

The passage of N.A.P.A. is expected to make a huge impact on the advancement of Alzheimer’s research. Currently MRIs and PET scans can detect changes in the brain, but only in the later stages of the disease. The project will attempt to coordinate a nation-wide effort to detect those changes before people begin to exhibit signs of dementia. Additionally, the project will speed up the development of drugs that can stop or significantly impede the progression of the disease.

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