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Two-day national meeting targets growing Alzheimer's disease

Ernie Shannon's picture

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are careening into retirement and old age unlike any generation before and a growing percentage of them are being stalked by the dreaded brain disorder, Alzheimer’s disease.

Those Americans making retirement decisions today and during the next decade represent the more than 76 million children born in the United States between 1946 – 1964, the classic baby boomer generation. Most of them are looking forward to a peaceful retirement after some 40 to 50 years of hard work and many of those sons and daughters of the “greatest generation” expect to have another 20 years or more of relative health and activity. Not so, however, for a growing number reaching their golden years.

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, an estimated 5.1 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s and that figure is expected to rise exponentially in the coming decades as more and more baby boomers reach their 60s. The cost of the disease to individuals and families is incalculable, but it can be projected that the cost to the nation in terms of lost productivity and skyrocketing health care costs could reach two trillion dollars in the coming decades.

The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation puts it bluntly: “Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disease which is uniformly fatal and for which there are no effective treatments.” That’s Dr. Howard Fillit, executive director of the foundation. He was part of a two-day meeting of government leaders and private sector experts gathered in New York City this week to lay the foundation for what they called an historic national plan to defeat Alzheimer’s. The fact that such a devastating disease has no known treatment, let alone a cure, and that 10,000 baby boomers a day are reaching the age of 65, prime hunting grown for the disease, means a plan of action is needed now.

“’The time is now for America to rally the nation behind the challenging, but achievable goal of stopping this disease in the next decade,” said Dr. Rudy Tanzi, a Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. “It is a bold goal, but it is doable, and only by setting a bold and inspiring goal will we be challenged to mobilize the best and the brightest in our nation to think ‘out-of-the-box’ to avoid the unimaginable costs of Alzheimer’s to our nation and the millions of families personally affected by the disease.”

One of the organization’s attending the two-day confab, Leaders Engaged on Alzheimer’s Disease (LEAD), recommended a plan of action resulting from the meeting and directed to the Congressionally-mandated Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care, and Services – the committee tasked with advising on the first-ever national action plan. The recommendations include:

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• Tripling the amount of funding for Alzheimer’s disease research, while reducing the current duplication of research efforts as well as spurring innovation through a new outcomes-oriented research strategy.

• Create incentives to drive investment in new Alzheimer’s therapies through enhanced market exclusivity for companies delivering treatments to market, development of large-scale patient registries to reduce the time and cost of recruiting thousands of individuals to clinical trials, and focusing attention on the development of qualified biomarkers to shorten the time needed to assess the effectiveness of new drug candidates.

• Reduce health care costs and improve quality of care for people with Alzheimer’s disease by implementing at a national level proven models of caring for individuals with the brain disorder and their caregivers, developing critical assistive tools and service for family caregivers, and adequately reimbursing health care professionals for improved high quality care.

• Establish a dedicated fund at the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services to invest with private investors in new start-up drug discovery companies that are developing innovative treatments and therapies with the best likelihood for reducing Medicare and Medicaid spending on Alzheimer’s disease care.

• Prepare for the explosion of Alzheimer’s cases by building a health care workforce skilled in the care of people with the disease and by ensuring that adequate and effective services and support care are accessible to all families coping with the disease.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America added its voice to the LEAD recommendations by calling on the Obama Administration to boost spending for Alzheimer’s research by $300 million in FY 2013 from what it was in FY 2009 That would mean a minimum of $1.4 billion in the FY 2013 budget. Some of that money would go to the National Institute on Aging and its studies into the prevention, treatment, and cure of Alzheimer’s disease.

Sources: The Alzheimer's Foundation of America and the Alzheimer's Association.