While the Alzheimer’s Association is proud be to the largest private, non-profit funder of Alzheimer’s research, most basic science in the U.S. is funded through the National Institutes of Health.
Currently, the NIH funds about $6 billion in cancer science, $5 billion in heart disease research and a little over $3 billion in HIV/ Aids science. The Feds provide just under $500 million for Alzheimer’s research. I work for the Alzheimer’s Association and I have lost three family members to Alzheimer’s; I’m biased, but I think these numbers are out of whack.
It’s not that I begrudge these important public health issues a nickel. I’m delighted death rates from cancer, heart disease and HIV are bending downward. But $500 million for Alzheimer’s research just won’t alter the future fast enough for our children or grandchildren. This level of funding will assure that nearly half of today’s Boomers will spend the last years of their lives in the fog of Alzheimer’s.
I take this spending allocation as an expression of public focus. I ask myself, why this huge discrepancy? I think some of it is an unspoken cost-benefit analysis that says, “these people are about done anyway and society needn’t spend huge dollars on this cohort.” Many people still think of Alzheimer’s as normal aging and the medical community often doesn’t help. Over half of the more than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s will never be diagnosed. I frequently run into people who tell me that mom didn’t have Alzheimer’s, “she had dementia.” If you don’t think Mom had Alzheimer’s, are you going to care about Alzheimer’s research funding levels?
Some of the problem is stigma. It’s one thing to note that your backhand isn’t what it once was; it’s a very different thing to say you don’t think as well as you used to. We hum along on what is between our ears and when that is compromised, it has a whole different meaning to our future. It scares us, and it doesn’t help that there are no survivors showing up at Alzheimer’s fundraisers.
We must and will do better. It’s a matter of how fast we get to it. This Spring, the Association will mount a new public awareness campaign to help change the conversation. Let us know what you think and most importantly, share the message with your community.
Wm H. Fisher, email@example.com