Nearly every minute, someone in our country develops Alzheimer’s disease, and more than 5 million Americans already live with this disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and it currently has no cure, no diagnostic test and no treatment.

As the population ages, the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will continue to grow, and if current trends persist, as many as 16 million Americans will have this terrible disease by 2050. I believe that, as a nation, we must commit to defeating one of the greatest threats to the health of Americans and the financial well-being of our country.

As a member of the Senate Health Appropriations Subcommittee, the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s disease and a founding member of the Senate NIH Caucus, I believe it’s critical to support medical research. Consistent, sustained support of medical research is essential to saving and improving lives, reducing health care costs, growing our economy, and maintaining America’s role as a global leader in medical innovation.

Without a way to prevent, cure or effectively treat Alzheimer’s, it will be difficult – if not impossible – to rein in our nation’s health care costs. In 2015, the direct costs of caring for those with Alzheimer’s was about $226 billion. If the trend continues, the disease will cost more $1.1 trillion (in today’s dollars) by 2050. The costs borne by Medicare are also expected to increase by more than 400 percent, from approximately $113 billion today, to $590 billion in 2050. I support medical research because if we can find effective treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, we can extend quality of life for patients and also significantly reduce the cost of caring for them in years to come. 

In 2013 and 2014 as Ranking Member of the Senate Health Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NIH, I worked to secure a significant increase in funding for Alzheimer’s research – at the time, the largest ever increase in Alzheimer’s disease research funding. I’ve since continued working with my subcommittee colleagues to secure considerable increases in Alzheimer’s funding over fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

This month, I was delighted to bring National Institute on Aging (NIA) Director Dr. Richard Hodes to Kansas to learn more about the important work taking place right here in Kansas – including at the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center (KU ADC). Dr. Hodes spearheads the federal research effort to find effective ways to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease. 

During Dr. Hodes’ visit, we met with a clinical trials patient from Overland Park. The patient explained to us that while he doesn’t have Alzheimer’s disease, he is concerned about the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease in his family. The patient hopes his participation in KU ADC clinical trials will help researchers there gather valuable data on the disease that might benefit patients and families in the future, including his own.

As one of only 31 NIA designated Alzheimer’s Disease Centers in the United States, the KU ADC is uniquely positioned to contribute advancements in research leading to new and better ways to diagnose, treat and hopefully prevent and cure Alzheimer’s disease. KU ADC’s diverse array of research has helped bolster its reputation as the region’s premier Alzheimer’s research and clinical care hub. Researchers at KU ADC are conducting one of the first prevention studies in the world by examining the role of physical exercise in delaying or preventing Alzheimer’s disease for those at high risk who do not yet have any memory symptoms. Additionally, they are pursuing innovative new approaches to treat the disease by targeting the metabolism of brain cells.

Alzheimer’s has become a disease to define a generation, but if we focus and prioritize our research capacity, it does not need to continue as an inevitable part of aging. Medical research offers hope to those individuals and families affected by this terrible disease, and hope for our nation’s financial future.