A Huge Step Forward in the Fight Against Alzhiemer’s
In recent years, the political climate in Washington, D.C., has shown us that the likelihood of Congress taking historic action on any issue is exceptionally rare. Considering that, as a taxpayer, the recent passage of a federal budget by bipartisan majorities was welcome relief from the usual news of partisan gridlock.
As President and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Illinois Chapter, it held even greater significance: the budget for the coming year will increase federally-funded Alzheimer’s disease research by $350 million. This represents a 59.7 percent increase in funding for National Institutes of Health-led efforts to treat and cure Alzheimer’s, the largest such expansion in our nation’s history.
In 2014, the federal government spent $153 billion providing care for people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. With more than 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s and projections that the patient population could increase by more than 200 percent in the coming decades, costs are set to skyrocket. The time to act was upon us. The bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who supported this increase reflects the urgency of the situation, and is a testament both to the unacceptably high prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, which has personally affected many members of Congress, and the hard work, passion and dedication of Alzheimer’s Association advocates, staff and donors.
This victory should be seen as part of a continuum of success advocating for public policies to address the impending Alzheimer’s disease epidemic:
In 2010, Alzheimer’s Association advocates helped pass legislation that created the National Alzheimer’s Plan, an annually updated strategic assessment of federally-funded research, care and support programs, with the goal of effectively treating Alzheimer’s by 2025.
Three years later, the Alzheimer’s Accountability Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama after swift congressional action. This law will allow the NIH to submit budgetary recommendations directly to Congress beginning in fiscal year 2017, ensuring that lawmakers have access to the best information available when determining future funding priorities.
In 2015, the Illinois General Assembly unanimously passed Silver Search, Alzheimer’s Association-backed legislation that will create a comprehensive coordination, awareness and search program for missing adults believed to have Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.
With the implementation of this year’s budget, NIH funding for Alzheimer’s disease research will have more than doubled during the last decade.
While these successes should be celebrated, we must remember that the fight to eliminate Alzheimer’s is far from won.
We are continuing to build support for the HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act (S. 857/H.R. 1559), our main federal initiative. If passed and signed into law, this measure would ensure that Medicare beneficiaries receive documented Alzheimer’s diagnoses and post-diagnosis care planning, which will reduce redundant and wasteful medical billing and improve the lives of people and families facing the disease.
Work to make Illinois a dementia-capable state remains ongoing. The continuing budget impasse presents large numbers of Illinois residents and families facing Alzheimer’s with the possibility of reduced services.
Our fight continues to increase annual NIH research funding to the $2 billion level identified by experts as the critical mass necessary to achieve the National Alzheimer’s Plan objectives.
Benjamin Franklin once said that “Energy and persistence conquer all things.” As I reflect on the meaning of this historic achievement, that wisdom seems to describe our work in recent years perfectly and offer a guide for what we must do in those to come, as Alzheimer’s advocates and citizens.
If you would like to use some of your energy, passion and persistence to bring us closer to a world without Alzheimer’s, please visit www.alz.org/illinois to learn how you can help.
– Erna E. Colborn is the President and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association, Greater Illinois Chapter.