A new plan marshals the forces of funding, research, and education to fight the battle against Alzheimer’s.
The National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease has an ambitious, overarching goal: to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s by 2025. But while focusing on the future, it does not neglect the present. The plan calls for the resources necessary to ease burdens the disease places on families and caregivers, to improve the quality of care for patients, and to engage the public in a national debate over a condition that threatens to overwhelm national health care systems by 2040.
A unified strategy is the only way to stop a tidal wave that threatens not only America, but the entire world, said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Americans are living longer and longer, Ms. Sebelius said when she unveiled the plan at a research summit sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. “But with that come additional challenges, and one of the biggest is Alzheimer’s. We know that as many as 5 million Americans carry this diagnosis now. And as those of us in the baby boomer generation age, the numbers of people with Alzheimer’s will more than double in the next few decades. What we know is that a lot more needs to be done, and done right now.”
The 2011 National Alzheimer’s Project Act called for the creation of such a plan. Drawing on the experiences and opinions of researchers, policy makers, advocacy groups, and families, it began to take shape that year. In February, with a draft version, the Obama administration allocated $156 million to support its goals. This move allowed the National Institutes of Health to earmark an additional $50 million for Alzheimer’s research this fiscal year.
“Our goal is that everyone can get the care and help they need.”
The proposed 2013 federal budget includes $100 million for efforts to combat Alzheimer’s. In addition to $80 million earmarked for research, the proposed budget allocates monies for public awareness campaigns ($4.2 million), provider education programs ($4 million), caregiver support ($10.5 million), and improved data collection ($1.3 million).
This year’s research allocation will fund two groundbreaking studies: the first-ever primary prevention trial in patients at high risk for the disease and a study to determine the effect of inhaled insulin on cognition, function, and biomarkers in people with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s.
“Research has provided valuable insights into the disease in the last few years, but no breakthroughs leading to treatment,” Ms. Sebelius said. “Clinical trials have been disappointing. We have no way of preventing Alzheimer’s – our ultimate goal. We have a general lack of understanding of Alzheimer’s as well. Many caregivers have to ‘go it’ alone, and health care professionals with limited time may not be able to address dementia in the most effective ways.”
But the Alzheimer’s plan is not only about research, Ms. Sebelius said. It brings unprecedented resources to those on the front lines of the fight: patients, families, caregivers, and health care workers.
“Our goal is that everyone can get the care and help they need. This is a true national plan based on a strong partnership with the Alzheimer’s community, and clearly we will not be able to carry it off without them.”
A new government-sponsored information clearinghouse will offer immediate answers to at least some of the problems those dealing with the disease face on a daily basis.
The website, www.alzheimers.gov, is devoted to all aspects of care that patients with Alzheimer’s disease require. It provides information on current treatment options, living situations, research studies, and the financial challenges of the disease, as well as direct links to the national plan and the National Alzheimer’s Project Act.
The time is right for such a bold and aggressive agenda, said researcher Suzanne Craft, Ph.D., director of the memory disorders clinic at the American Lakes division of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Tacoma, Wash., and lead investigator on the inhaled insulin trial.
“It’s time to draw national attention to the need for additional research funding and additional programs to support caregivers, and to educate the primary care physicians who take care of these patients. Alzheimer’s places the greatest financial burden of any disease on our health care system, and one of the greatest emotional burdens on families and caregivers. This overarching approach has been lacking, and this is a very important step in the right direction.”
Dr. Craft had no financial disclosures.