Earlier this week the United States government recognised the critical need to address the Alzheimer’s epidemic by approving a funding increase of $122 million. This is the largest ever increase in the US for funding dedicated to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
"By allotting $122 million to Alzheimer's research, care and support services, President Obama and Congress are acknowledging the magnitude of the Alzheimer's crisis and need for greater investment," said Robert Egge, Alzheimer's Association's vice president of public policy.
The increase in funding for Alzheimer’s disease is mostly allocated to research into new treatments, with more than $100 million assigned to the National Institute on Aging. The work of caregivers has also been recognised, as over $13 million has been designated to expanding home and community-based caregiver services. The remaining sum goes towards raising awareness and community outreach programmes.
Additionally, the National Institute of Health’s BRAIN initiative will receive $30 million to aid brain research. The project attempts to increase our understanding of the human brain that could impact several neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
There are currently more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease, and that number is expected to grow to as many as 16 million by 2050, according the Alzheimer's Association 2013 Facts & Figures report. It is estimated that Alzheimer's costs the US $203 billion annually, with projections that it could reach $1.2 trillion by 2050.
There was widespread praise for US President Barack Obama when he reiterated his commitment to spending on Alzheimer’s research in his recent State of the Union address.
For Americans living with Alzheimer’s and those caring for a loved one living with the condition, his words pitched him as a president who is serious about tackling what the World Health Organization describes as “a global public health priority”. The president’s comments were warmly welcomed from all political corners, even earning approval from some of his most vocal critics. In his address, the President referred to the return on investment seen from mapping the human genome, saying “every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy, every dollar”.
“Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s,” Obama said. “Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race.”
Commitment to beating Alzheimer’s makes good sense, at both social and economic levels. In the United Kingdom alone, it’s estimated that the disease costs the economy around £23 billion annually.
Around 4.7 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s. However, if progress is not made to tackle the disease, scientists fear this number could triple in the next few decades.
Recent news reports suggest that the US government is set to launch a wide-ranging program to examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity. Such a program would no doubt have far-reaching implications for our knowledge of the brain and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.