Hope for a cure for Alzheimer’s

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OPINION - BY REP. TOM COLE

With­out ques­tion, Alzheimer’s is much more than a dif­fi­cult bur­den to bear. In­deed, it’s a na­tional health cri­sis with enor­mous fi­nan­cial and hu­man costs, and I am en­cour­aged that steps have been taken to pro­vide some hope.

Like many oth­ers across the coun­try, my fam­ily knows the toll that Alzheimer’s dis­ease takes on those liv­ing with it and those car­ing for them. Marked at first by for­get­ful­ness, the dis­ease at its worst even­tu­ally causes per­son­al­i­ties to dis­ap­pear and erases recog­ni­tion of peo­ple and life’s events from mem­ory. I re­mem­ber how painful it was to see that hap­pen to my fa­ther dur­ing the last sev­eral years of his life.

While few are un­fa­mil­iar with Alzheimer’s and the heart­break­ing de­cline that comes to those with the dis­ease, mys­tery still largely sur­rounds its cause and ram­pant spread. Since the cause is un­known, its on­set can­not be pre­dicted or pre­vented. Even with physi­cians treat­ing symp­toms and care­givers do­ing their best, it is con­cern­ing that more and more peo­ple are get­ting the dis­ease. Just re­cently, I was sad­dened to hear of for­mer Supreme Court Jus­tice San­dra Day O’Con­nor’s own bat­tle with de­men­tia and her de­ci­sion to step away from pub­lic life.

Alzheimer’s has be­come far too com­mon an af­flic­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion, nearly 6 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have it to­day, and pro­jec­tions show that 13.8 mil­lion could have the dis­ease by the mid­dle of this cen­tury.

Each year, hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars are spent car­ing for peo­ple with the dis­ease, in­clud­ing an ev­er­in­creas­ing strain on pub­lic re­sources. This year, the fed­eral govern­ment is ex­pected to spend $187 bil­lion treat­ing Alzheimer’s pa­tients through Medi­care and Med­i­caid. That fig­ure is ex­pected to reach an un­sus­tain­able $750 bil­lion by 2050.

For fam­ily mem­bers who of­ten serve as care­givers, the cost is felt be­yond dol­lars. Even out of sin­cere and self­less love, the task of look­ing af­ter some­one with Alzheimer’s is of­ten phys­i­cally ex­haust­ing and emo­tion­ally drain­ing. As a re­sult, many care­givers ex­pe­ri­ence a de­cline in their own health. Dur­ing Novem­ber, we rightly honor the many fam­ily mem­bers who ex­tend a spe­cial la­bor of love by serv­ing as care­givers.

With­out ques­tion, Alzheimer’s is much more than a dif­fi­cult bur­den to bear. In­deed, it’s a na­tional health cri­sis with enor­mous fi­nan­cial and hu­man costs, and I am en­cour­aged that steps have been taken to pro­vide some hope.

To slow down the dis­ease and ul­ti­mately find a cure, re­search truly is the best longterm in­vest­ment we can make. And since fis­cal year 2016, I am proud that Repub­li­cans in both cham­bers of Congress have led the charge in pri­or­i­tiz­ing, se­cur­ing and boost­ing funds for this vi­tal re­search.

Rec­og­niz­ing the des­per­ate need, the ap­pro­pri­a­tions subcom­mit­tee that I chair has con­sis­tently called for in­creased fund­ing for ded­i­cated Alzheimer’s re­search at the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health. Thanks to the same com­mit­ment of my coun­ter­part Sen. Roy Blunt, steady and an­nual in­creases for NIH have be­come the norm. In fact, the pres­i­dent re­cently signed into law leg­is­la­tion that sig­nif­i­cantly boosts fund­ing for dis­ease re­search at NIH — for the fourth straight year. NIH-sup­ported re­searchers have al­ready been able to forge ahead with new stud­ies.

As law­mak­ers look to­ward a new Congress, fund­ing for Alzheimer’s dis­ease re­search must re­main a pri­or­ity. Es­pe­cially in di­vided govern­ment, this is an is­sue that must con­tinue to tran­scend par­ti­san­ship. I look for­ward to work­ing with my col­leagues on both sides of the aisle to en­sure fund­ing con­tin­ues.

Cole, R-Moore, is chair­man of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Subcom­mit­tee on La­bor, Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, Ed­u­ca­tion and Re­lated Agen­cies.

Rep. Tom Cole

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