Follow plan with real action
Alzheimer's disease is an important example. As baby boomers create a major demographic shift over the next 30 years, roughly doubling the population of older adults, Alzheimer's is poised to become the defining disease of a generation. In addition to the millions it will strike directly, millions more family caregivers will be impacted in heartbreaking ways. Estimates are that the disease will cost the U.S. economy $2 trillion over the next decade.
Recognizing that stark reality, Congress passed and President Obama signed the National Alzheimer's Project Act last year. Two weeks ago, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius put that act into motion, announcing an ambitious plan to fight Alzheimer's and related dementias.
It sets five key goals, including a going-to-the-moon challenge of developing effective treatment and prevention approaches by 2025. But developing a plan is just a first step. It has to be followed by execution. Like the Apollo project of the 1960s and '70s, achieving those goals will take a broad commitment not only by elected officials, but by private industry and researchers.
The plan includes developing improved training for the health and long-term care workforce, as well as better support for informal caregivers. The toll Alzheimer's takes on caregivers and families can be enormous. In one study, about one-third of caregivers reported symptoms of depression.
The plan also seeks to address the stigma and misconceptions associated with Alzheimer's, which can affect the care patients receive and add to the isolation they feel.
And it provides for the coordination and tracking of public and private sector progress, including improvements in data to track the incidence, prevalence and costs of the disease. Such steps are critical to ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent effectively.
Hope is mainly what this plan offers Alzheimer's families in the short term. Long-term results will depend on how seriously Congress follows through on its commitment, and how much private-sector investment can be generated.
Amid today's technological advances, one measure of humanity's success must be how we take on diseases as devastating as Alzheimer's. Even amid government cutbacks, such battles must remain a high priority.
To learn more about the fight against Alzheimer's disease, visit www.usagainstalzheimers.org.