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December 11, 2019

More funding needed for early-onset Alzheimer’s services

Credit: The Baltimore Sun, Rushern Baker and David Trone

Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that affects millions of Americans and their caregivers, and if we don’t act soon to find a cure, Alzheimer’s and dementia will bankrupt our country. For the two of us, this fight is personal.

Rushern’s wife. Christa Beverly. was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s in her early 50s. She struggled for years while she experienced symptoms but was unable to identify the diagnosis. David’s father Thomas Trone was a WWII veteran and entrepreneur who spent the last six years of his life battling the disease, which ultimately took his life in 2011.

Unfortunately, our families are not unique. Nearly 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and one in three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. While most associate Alzheimer’s as a disease affecting older Americans, more than 200,000 individuals under the age of 65 today are diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s strains relationships and family budgets. Spouses and children are forced to become caretakers who must grapple with caring for a loved one whose cognitive state is declining. In 2019, it is estimated that more than 16 million Americans will provide 18.5 billion hours of unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

The disease also costs our country dearly. According to the 2019 Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures report, Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to cost the United States $280 billion this year alone. Studies show that it costs more to treat patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than cancer patients or victims of heart disease. And that number is only going up. By 2050, the estimated cost to the United States from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is $1.1 trillion.

We must find a cure for this deadly disease, and we can do so by doubling the budget of our nation’s premier scientific research agency — the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Right here in Maryland, scientists and researchers at NIH are working every day to better understand the disease, identify effective treatments and eventually find a cure. However, experts say that some 40% of good research opportunities go unfunded because Congress and the president haven’t provided sufficient funding for the NIH. This means that right now, a cure for Alzheimer’s that could save countless lives could be collecting dust on the shelf.

This is particularly troubling because we know that investing in NIH not only saves lives, it makes good business sense. For every dollar we invest in basic scientific research at the NIH, we spur more than $8 in private sector research. And NIH research has created trillions in economic growth and productivity gains for our country.

The good news is that Congress has heard the message. Since 2016, Congress has steadily increased the budget for the NIH, and we are on the brink of securing another increase in funding for this life-saving research. For next year’s budget, the Senate proposed a $3 billion increase for the NIH, including $350 million for Alzheimer’s research specifically. The House proposed a $2 billion increase over last year’s budget for the NIH. As Congress continues to work to avoid a government shutdown, it is imperative that we come together to strike a deal that includes the Senate’s higher proposal for investment in the NIH and Alzheimer’s research.

While we fight for the funding to find a cure, we also need to make sure legislators pass policies to support those living with Alzheimer’s now. In October, the House of Representatives passed Congressman Trone’s Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Act of 2019, which would ensure younger Americans living with Alzheimer’s have access to services already available to those over the age of 60. We believe this bipartisan piece of legislation should pass quickly in the Senate and head to the president’s desk. At a time when politics in Washington can seem more divided than ever, we are hopeful that this issue is one that Democrats and Republicans can unite behind.

When it comes to the health of our family, friends, and the nation, nothing should be more important than supporting life-saving research. It’s our duty as public officials and community leaders to act with compassion and fight for those that don’t have a PAC or a lobbyist to advocate on their behalf. It’s time to find a cure to Alzheimer’s. Let’s get to work.