Health advocates like Belleville have good reason to be worried, based on expert projections. Alzheimer's is currently the only top 10 disease, as a cause of death, that doesn't have a cure. And the numbers of people living with the disease are expected to nearly triple to 14 million in 2050, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Increasing budgets for Alzheimer research is an uphill battle, though.
NIH funding for the brain disease is far behind that of cancer. In 2016 the NIH's estimated budget for Alzheimer's was $910 million vs. $5.6 billion for cancer. The NIH has said that it wants more money for Alzheimer research.
Alzheimer's Greater Los Angeles recently sent alerts to its 24,000 advocates to push Congress to pass the budget. Dr. Debra Cherry, executive vice president of Alzheimer's Greater Los Angeles, said, "We want to accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's. So we try to flood our congresspeople and let them know that this is a passionate desire."
The just-passed congressional budget included a $400 million increase for Alzheimer's research at the NIH in fiscal 2017.
"There's currently no way to slow Alzheimer's progression," said Robert Egge, chief public policy officer at the Alzheimer's Association. "And Alzheimer's isn't robustly funded. Our advocates are aware that's our mission today."
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Egge figures that Alzheimer funding should be more than $2 billion to substantially bump up research for a complex disease. "Robust funding can lead to breakthroughs," he said. Well-funded research, for example, has helped heart disease and cancer see declining death rates.
Not curing the disease, though, could indeed bankrupt the nation. In 2017 the U.S. health and long-term care cost for Alzheimer's was $259 billion. That number is set to soar to $511 billion by 2020, according to the NIH.
"For every $100 that goes into research, we pay $16,000 in care for the disease," Egge said. "But we can change that story."