Alzheimer's awareness month sheds spotlight on treatment, prevention efforts

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Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Today marks the beginning of National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, a reminder that the number of people who will develop the disease is expected to skyrocket over the next few years.

Starting Jan. 1, 79 million baby boomers will turn 65 at a rate of one every eight seconds. That is more than four million per year, according to a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times. If scientists could delay onset of the disease by five years, via better drugs, the United States could keep much fewer Alzheimer's patients from needing nursing homes, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and Alzheimer's experts Stanley Prusiner and Ken Dychtwald said in the piece.

Currently, for every penny the National Institutes of Health spends on Alzheimer's research, Americans spend $3.50 caring for individuals with the disease, for a total of $172 billion a year.  At that rate, by 2020, the cumulative total will be $172 billion a year, or $20 trillion by 2050, according to the op-ed titled “The Age of Alzheimer's." November also marks National Family Caregivers Month.

Alzheimer's researchers have asked Congress to take action on new legislation that would give $2 billion to scientists working on new drugs to treat and prevent the disease, the editorial states. They wrote that major medical breakthroughs are possible by 2020 if Congress passes the legislation during its coming lame-duck session.

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