The Alzheimer's investment that's not being made

John O'Connor
John O'Connor

By any measure, Alzheimer's disease is simply dreadful. This fatal neurological disorder robs its victims of their memories, minds and lives.

It's also very expensive. The cost to treat and care for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease is expected to top $1.1 trillion a year by 2050, according to some estimates.

Chances are pretty good that Alzheimer's has affected you both professionally and personally. To be sure, many skilled care operators do make money off of Alzheimer's. Still, I'm willing to bet most would gladly forego such “business” in exchange for an Alzheimer's cure.

But that day seems far away. The few medications that are available can only help slow disease progression. Many studies are now underway in an effort to better understand, treat and ultimately cure the disease, but we remain largely in the dark. Frankly, our best hope probably lies in the form of increased research funding.

And here the news just got better. The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Related Agencies subcommittee passed a fiscal 2017 bill that increases funding for such research by $400 million, or a whopping $1.39 billion in all. Even by Washington standards, that's a lot.

The increase will fuel efforts to help find a cure, notes, Charles J. Fuschillo Jr., who is president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.

“This is a positive step in the right direction; however, much more needs to be invested if we are to achieve the goal of the National Alzheimer's Plan — to find a cure or meaningful treatment for this devastating illness by 2025,” he adds.

By 2025? I certainly endorse efforts to put a goal toward such progress. But as we've seen time and time again, medical challenges can be remarkably resilient.

Consider, it was 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared a “war on cancer.” More than four decades later, we're not exactly ready to claim victory. Telethons requesting funds for muscular dystrophy have been a Labor Day Weekend staple since 1966. Despite raising more than $2 billion over the years, there is still no cure in sight.

That is by no means to suggest efforts here and elsewhere are not warranted. They are. Every dollar and every study is a potential game changer.

But as difficult and frustrating as it can be, we must also invest in patience. Enthusiastic rhetoric and arbitrary finish lines may give us hope. But neither has cured a disease.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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