Washington's positively historic actions on Alzheimer's research
By Luisa Echevarria
Something historic happened in our nation's capital recently, and the consequences have the potential to profoundly impact the future and change the course of history.
What I'm referring to is something that Democrats and Republicans in Washington actually worked on together: a record $2.8 billion investment in the Fiscal Year 2020 federal budget for research toward finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease. The funding plan passed by Congress and signed into law by the President represents a $350 million increase from the FY 2019 total.
Alzheimer's is a public health crisis. America's sixth leading cause of death is also the only one in the top 10 without a cure or disease modifying treatment. More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's right now, growing to nearly 14 million by 2060, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) projections. In Illinois alone, the CDC estimates that 230,000 people currently have Alzheimer's, with that number rising to 260,000 by 2025.
Having lost my mother and grandmother to Alzheimer's, and as an Alzheimer's Foundation of America board member, I can tell you those are more than just numbers. Every "statistic" is someone's loved one: a spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent or friend. We are all praying for a scientific breakthrough that leads to a treatment or cure for this horrible disease, but the only way that can happen is through research.
Washington first made Alzheimer's a priority in 2012, when it released the National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease. Included in the plan was the goal of finding a cure or disease-modifying treatment for Alzheimer's by 2025. Leading scientists estimated that the minimum amount of federal research funding needed to achieve that goal was $2 billion a year. Since that time, the federal government's appropriation for Alzheimer's research has grown from less than $500 million in 2012 to $2.82 billion for FY 2020.
It's remarkable progress (a phrase many people don't associate with the federal government), but we haven't crossed the finish line yet. Additional research funding must continue to be appropriated until a cure is found.
Washington must also put greater emphasis on supporting family caregivers who, in the absence of a cure, are essential, front-line personnel in the fight against Alzheimer's. Speaking from personal experience, caring for a family member with Alzheimer's takes an enormous physical and emotional toll, and in some cases, a financial one as well. Most family caregivers are untrained and they need all the support they can get. Services funded through the federal Administration for Community Living (ACL), including the national family caregiver support program, respite care, adult day programs, senior citizen centers and Meals on Wheels, provide valuable support to these devoted men and women who are performing a true labor of love in caring for their family members.
For all that people say is wrong with Washington -- the gridlock, polarization and political games -- this is something Washington got, and must continue to get, right. Progress in the fight against Alzheimer's is a cause everyone, regardless of political ideology, should support.
Luisa Echevarria, of Chicago, is a board member of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.