Dementia Report Wake-up Call

Dementia Report Wake-up Call

04.04.13 | By

If you're not worried by dementia - its personal cost and its economic toll - you should be. I am. Anyone who, like me, has had a family member die with dementia understands the devastation: the years - if not decades - of the living loss of a loved one; the drain on family and healthcare resources; the unmet hope that something may be done to relieve or reverse the insidious progress of the condition. The front-page story on the latest dementia impact study in yesterday's New York Times underscores the need for action. The RAND study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that "nearly 15 percent of people aged 71 or older, about 3.8 million people, have dementia. By 2040, the authors said, that number will balloon to 9.1 million people." The study also found that "direct health care expenses for dementia, including nursing home care, were $109 billion in 2010. For heart disease, those costs totaled $102 billion; for cancer, $77 billion." This study, paired with the Alzheimer's Association finding that Alzheimer's care will potentially cost our healthcare system $1 Trillion a year by 2050 should seriously alarm us all. This isn't a problem that can be solved or managed by tinkering. Better care, better access and better identification can all help but they won't stave off the looming healthcare crisis. Current generic medicines won't slow or stop the progress of dementia and there are few innovative medicines now approved to treat Alzheimer's. Indeed, our efforts to find new treatments for Alzheimer's disease are really in the early phases - more research and more progress is needed to fulfill hopes for a treatment, eventual cure and better future. The hopeful solution is more research, greater cooperation and dedication to purpose. This includes much more R&D by academic and government laboratories as well as biopharmaceutical research companies. For their part, America's biopharmaceutical research companies are today working on nearly 100 new medicines to help treat Alzheimer's disease as well as 465 new medicines targeted to the needs of an aging population. Somewhere in that mix may be seeds of a better solution for dementias in general and Alzheimer's disease in particular. But it isn't going to be quick. It is going to take a lot of time, large and risky investments in innovative R&D and a massive commitment of human and healthcare resources to find better solutions - solutions that can ease the suffering of patients and their families; solutions that will reduce the potential economic burden on our nation and its healthcare system.

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