Recently Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican representing the Twin Cities western suburbs, and Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat representing Minneapolis, met on the border of their districts to engage in a bipartisan public discussion on one of the defining issues of our time: how to address the epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease. Despite a fiercely partisan climate in Washington, the congressmen focused on their shared commitment to fight Alzheimer’s. As Ellison stated, “Alzheimer’s doesn’t care if you are a Republican or Democrat.”
We participated in the event, as members of a demographic impacted by Alzheimer’s that is often overlooked: young adults. As members of the Alzheimer’s Association Young Champions, we represent a diverse group of emerging community leaders who are dedicated to changing the face of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias by raising awareness across generations.
We have witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of watching our loved ones forget how to walk, speak and swallow as a result of this terrible disease. These experiences have had a profound effect on us and sadly, our experiences are not unique. Currently more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and countless more family members and friends are suffering right alongside them as caregivers. With the largest generation in American history reaching the age at which Alzheimer’s most frequently develops, the number of people impacted by this disease will skyrocket.
Based on recently released independent study, Alzheimer’s disease is now the most expensive malady in the United States. Despite being the 6th leading cause of death in the country, it is still the only top 10 cause of death without a means of prevention, treatment, or cure.
Personal and public challenges
The personal toll exacted by Alzheimer’s is immense, but the disease also poses broad social and financial challenges for our country’s future. In 2013, Alzheimer’s disease will cost the United States $203 billion in medical care, including $142 billion in expenses to Medicare and Medicaid. This medical cost is projected to rise nearly 13 percent per year – totaling $1.2 trillion by 2050.
This rising cost of care for Alzheimer’s disease is an unsustainable financial burden that will overwhelm our medical and social systems. Whether directly, when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, or indirectly, by supporting the increasing medical costs associated with Medicare and Medicaid, everyone is affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
It is imperative that we, as a country, do something about this. Currently the United States spends only 1 penny on Alzheimer’s research compared to every $2.80 spent on caring for those with the disease, an investment trend that Ellison aptly described as “pennywise and pound foolish.” If the onset of Alzheimer’s disease can be delayed by only five years, the cost of care will decrease by 50 percent, a goal considered to be “smart policy” by Paulsen.
A need for more investment
As Young Champions, we join the Alzheimer’s Association in its request that Congress increase our national investment in finding a cure and treatment for Alzheimer’s disease by an additional $100 million in 2014. This increase represents a small but important down payment in the future of our country. When considering the existing and unsustainable projected growth in Alzheimer’s-related costs, an investment now will realize a dramatic fiscal savings in the not-so-distant future.
As Young Champions, we envision a world without Alzheimer’s disease. We are grateful for the bipartisan leadership displayed recently by Reps. Ellison and Paulsen. However, given the gravity of the Alzheimer’s health epidemic, patience is a luxury our country can ill afford. Bold and decisive action is needed by our political representatives.
In the meantime, for millions of Americans affected by this untreatable disease, we advocate for progress and hope because, in the words of Rep. Ellison, “cynicism is not as realistic as hope.”
Ryan Kiskis, Tyler Olson, Alex Monn and Emily Buss represent the Young Champions Advocacy Committee.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Lenny Kiskis, who passed away Sept. 14 at the age of 64 after an eight-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Lenny touched many lives and will be missed dearly.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.)