Alzheimer’s Disease: A Global Epidemic
-William Thies, Ph.D. is Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. The opinions expressed are his own.-
This week, more than 5,600 of the world’s leading scientists gathered in Paris to report and study the latest advances in Alzheimer’s research at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2011 (AAIC).
Alzheimer’s disease is an escalating international crisis. It is under-resourced, under-funded and under-prioritized by governments worldwide.
Latest estimates tell us that more than 35 million people worldwide are living with dementia. Unless we can change the course of this disease, this number is expected to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050.
The out-of-pocket costs to patients and families caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease, the cost to insurance companies and the cost of uncompensated care to healthcare providers and rising taxes, cumulatively during the next 40 years and without taking into account inflation, will amount to $20 trillion in the United States alone.
We must, as a world community, demand that a far more significant amount be invested in research by our leaders in government. We must do this now to advance scientific progress and bring us closer to the biomarkers and treatments that will make a world without Alzheimer’s disease possible. This is not only a moral obligation, it is a financial one as well.
Innovative global research studies such as a potential “eye test” and markers in blood and spinal fluid, featured at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2011 this week, are taking the first important steps to confirm and standardize Alzheimer’s biomarkers, in very much the same way that blood pressure is a biomarker for heart disease.
Research that examines the progression from Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) to Alzheimer’s dementia is also emerging as an important field. A recent study suggests that doctors should pay more attention to subjective memory complaints in otherwise healthy individuals as a possible indicator of Alzheimer’s.
There are wide variations in national approaches to the fight against dementia. The French Alzheimer’s Plan in particular is leadership-driven from the highest levels of the national government, has goals that are measurable and progress is tracked through regular meetings with President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Since its implementation in 2008, the French Alzheimer’s Plan has added more than 600 practitioners to the field. Sixty-five new memory clinics and more than 500 new diagnostic centers have been established across the country. More than 100 fundamental research projects in therapeutics, human and social sciences have been launched since the Plan was adopted.
There is promising news on this front in the U.S. In January, the National Alzheimer’s Project Act became law. It requires the creation of a national strategic plan to address Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S., and will coordinate Alzheimer’s disease efforts across the federal government, including research, care, and services for people living with Alzheimer’s.
The National Alzheimer’s Project also requires the U.S. government to coordinate with international bodies in the global fight against Alzheimer’s, create accountability, and provide an annual review process to monitor progress.
The Alzheimer’s Association worked closely with the U.S. Congress to enact the bill last year, and we continue to be at the forefront of this effort. To ensure that any U.S. Alzheimer’s plan is bold and transformative, we have and will continue to work with representatives from the White House, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and members of Congress.
We are pleased that the is U.S. joining other countries that have developed, or are developing, national plans to overcome Alzheimer’s. We need to create more national plans that hold the highest level of government accountability, demand measurable results and provide dedicated funds for both care and research.
This will bring us a step closer toward our vision – a world without Alzheimer’s.