Videos & Speeches
Madam President, thank you very much. Every 68 seconds—a little more than 1 minute—someone in America develops Alzheimer's. It is a devastating and irreversible brain disease that slowly destroys an individual's cognitive functioning, including memory and thought. Back home in Kansas, a Kansas City physician, Dr. Richard Padula, and his wife Marta had been married for 51 years when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2006. It is difficult to imagine the anguish Dick and Marta and their family and their friends experienced as he deteriorated from a leading heart surgeon into someone unable to comprehend a newspaper article. Unfortunately, these stories have become very common.
Alzheimer's currently affects more than 5.2 million people in the United States and more than 35.6 million people worldwide. As our population ages, the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's after the age of 65 will double every five years, while the number of individuals 85 years and older with this disease will triple by 2050. Already, Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and there is currently no cure, no diagnostic test, and no treatment for this terrible, terrible disease. As a nation, we should, we must, we ought to commit to defeating one of the greatest threats to the health of Americans and to the financial well-being of our nation.
In 1962, President Kennedy called our nation to action to reach the Moon by the end of the decade, and Americans rallied around that cry. Similarly, we need to commit ourselves to a goal just as ambitious but perhaps even more imperative. We must strive to achieve not only an effective treatment but a cure for Alzheimer's over the next decade. President Kennedy words, he said, “Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” Well I would like those words to be spoken about the fight against Alzheimer's.
As the baby boomer generation ages and Alzheimer's disease becomes more prevalent, the need to confront the pending health care crisis has become even more urgent. The financial costs alone cannot be ignored. What it costs America's health care system, what it costs Americans, what it costs the taxpayers, we need to address these issues. Caring for those with Alzheimer's and other dementias is expected to reach an expense of $203 billion this year—$203 billion this year—with $142 billion covered by the federal government through Medicare and Medicaid.
A recent study by the RAND Corporation stated that the cost of dementia care is projected to double over the next 30 years, surpassing health care expenses for both heart disease and cancer. 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. Alzheimer's has become a disease that defines a generation, but if we focus and prioritize our research capacity, it does not need to continue to be an inevitable part of aging.
It is time to truly commit to defeating this disease in the next decade, a goal no more ambitious than President Kennedy set forth for the Apollo space program. For every $27 that Medicare and Medicaid spend caring for an individual with Alzheimer's, the Federal Government only spends $1 on Alzheimer's research—$27 to care for the disease; $1 to try to cure or prevent the disease.
Yet we know that research suggests that more progress could be made if given more support. One study found that a breakthrough against Alzheimer's that delays the onset of the disease by just 5 years would mean an annual savings of $362 billion by 2050. A sustained Federal commitment to research for Alzheimer's will lower the cost and improve the health outcomes for people living with the disease today and in the future.
I am the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the National Institutes of Health. NIH is the focal point of our Nation's medical research infrastructure, and I am committed to working with my colleagues to prioritize funding for Alzheimer's research. This year our subcommittee increased funding for the National Institute on Aging—the lead institute for Alzheimer's research at NIH—by $84 million and supported the initial year of funding for the new Presidential initiative to map the human brain. Both projects will increase our understanding of the underlying causes of Alzheimer's, unlock the mysteries of the brain, and bring us closer—closer—to an effective treatment and, one day, closer to a cure.
Alzheimer's is a defining challenge of my generation, and we should commit to a national goal to defeat this devastating disease. We can do that by supporting critical research carried out by scientists and researchers across our Nation and supported by the National Institutes of Health.
In my view this is an area in which we all can come together. You can be the most compassionate, caring person—and we ought to spend money to care for people—you can be the most cautious about spending dollars and the investment and what the return is for every dollar we spend, and because we could save on health care costs, you ought to be supportive of this funding.
The health and financial future of our Nation, in my view, is at stake, and the United States cannot, should not, must not ignore this threat. Together, we can make a sustained commitment to Alzheimer's research that will benefit our Nation and bring hope to families such as the Padulas, as well as to every American. It is a challenge. It is a challenge we ought to accept. The moment for us to act is now, and the end result is hope for the future.