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National strategy on Alzheimer's disease aims to halt it by 2025

May 15, 2012|By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times/For the Booster Shots Blog
  • The nation's 5.1 million Alzheimer's disease sufferers and their caregivers will get some help from a strategy unveiled Tuesday.
The nation's 5.1 million Alzheimer's disease sufferers and… (Michael Robinson Chavez )

Asserting "we are at an exceptional moment" in the hunt for an Alzheimer'sdiseasetreatment, National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins on Tuesday promised a raft of new research aimed at stopping and reversing the memory-robbing disorder by the year 2025. In unveiling a first-ever "national strategy" on Alzheimer's disease, Collins launched several new projects and clinical trials--including a whole-genome sequencing effort to identify genes that confer vulnerability to--or protection against-- Alzheimer's, and a trial to explore whether an inhaled form of insulin will slow progression of the disease.

Federal officials also launched a website that will link Alzheimer's sufferers and their caregivers to research, support and local sources of help, and announced new efforts to inform Americans about the earliest signs of the disease, and to give medical professionals better tests and clearer guidelines for early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

As the Affordable Care Act makes the annual wellness visit a universal practice, the national strategy said, "'detection of any cognitive impairment' must be included as part of the wellness visit." Starting this summer, physicians and other healthcare providers can access free training on the best clinical practices for the detection and early treatment of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

The national strategy statement comes in response to the National Alzheimer's Project Act, signed into law in January 2011. Citing the new law's provisions, the Obama administration pointed to a $100 million budget request for Alzheimer's-related projects, including $80 million for research, $10.5 million to support caregivers, $4.2 million for projects to increase public awareness of the disease, $4 million to establish and run education programs on the disease, and $1.3 million to improve data collection on Alzheimer's.

By some estimates, as many as 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. That number is expected to double in the coming years, with the rapid aging of the U.S. population. Barring the discovery or development of drugs or lifestyle interventions that could stop the disease in its tracks, as many as 16 million Americans are expected to suffer from Alzheimer's by the year 2050.

"This is everybody-in, not just nationally, but at the state and local level," said Eric J. Hall, president and chief executive of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. "It is, hopefully, a battle cry to meet this challenge head on and do as much as we can."

Hall noted that while the National Alzheimer's Project Act was passed without a single no vote in Congress, the funds proposed to enact its goals are certain to encounter more turbulent waters in a Congress focused on budget-cutting. "It's my hope that the same support will be there to fund some of the content," said Hall, adding "we could end up in worse shape later if we don't act now."

Caring for those with dementia in the U.S. will cost an estimated $200 billion annually, and the Alzheimer's Assn. has estimated that figure could rise to $1 trillion by 2050 if no cure is found.

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