President Obama has signed a bill to create the first national plan to combat Alzheimer's disease, the deadly disease that already afflicts 5.3 million Americans.
The National Alzheimer's Project Act, which breezed through both the House and the Senate during December with broad bipartisan support, will centralize government-funded efforts to fight the disease, which threatens one in eight baby boomers in the years ahead. Caring for those with Alzheimer's will cost an estimated $1 trillion a year by 2050 unless a cure can be found, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
“Now that this bill is law, we can help ensure that the federal government better coordinates all of the research and clinical programs dealing with Alzheimer's, which is now the seventh leading cause of death in the United States," said Rep. Edward Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who championed the bill in the House with Rep. Chris Smith, (R-NJ).
“Unless science finds a way to prevent or cure the disease, nearly 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s disease by the year 2050. That is going to devastate the families who have a loved one afflicted with the disease. It will also drain billions in treatment costs from Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health programs,” Markey said.
The Alzheimer's project, known by its initials as NAPA, will be located within the Department of Health and Human Services. An advisory council will coordinate and oversee federal research, healthcare, and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Currently, the US spends only $469 billion on Alzheimer's research compared with $3 billion for AIDS or $6 billion for cancer. The new law doesn't provide any additional funding, but a still-pending piece of legislation, the Alzheimer's Breakthrough Act, would increase funding to the National Institutes of Health to $2 billion to fight Alzheimer's.
The proposal for increased funding may face new obstacles, now that Republicans control the House. The GOP has called for reductions in spending at NIH and through social programs like Medicaid and Medicare. Still, Markey appeared optimistic now that Obama signed the NAPA bill.
“This law requires a plan for beating Alzheimer’s and represents an important step forward in our country’s efforts in this area," said Markey. "Future generations should have to turn to the history books to even learn of Alzheimer’s because we will have defeated it. That is the goal of this new law”
NAPA also had bipartisan support in the Senate, where is was cosponsored by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Nursing Home Patients
About half the seniors now in nursing homes suffer from Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, although 70 percent of Alzheimer's patients are cared for in the home, usually by relatives who are overwhelmed by the task. There is no cure, not even a treatment that can extend life or delay onset of the disease, which slowly destroys the brain.
On average, it costs three times as much to care for each Alzheimer's patient as for those with cancer, diabetes, heart problems or other chronic ailments, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Because housing and other "social costs" aren't covered by Medicare, families must cover those expenses, which account for about two-thirds of the cost of Alzheimer's care.
For a retired couple, it is common for one partner to die from the disease, leaving the other impoverished after spending an entire life's savings.