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Working Together To End Alzheimer's

This column first appeared in The Hill

  |  Pat Toomey May 3, 2016

Every 66 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimer's. Today, more than five million people have Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, and until we have a research breakthrough, that number is expected to triple to 13.8 million by 2050. That means the number of families and friends making personal sacrifices in order to care for their loved ones will soar as well.

This is a personal issue for me. My father has Alzheimer's, and my grandmother died from the disease. I've met with many caregivers across Pennsylvania - spouses, sons, and daughters of Alzheimer's patients. They are people just like me and my wife, Kris. They are people who share the worry about the deterioration of loved ones, seemingly worse with every visit. Hearing their stories inspired me to serve as co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer's.

It is painful to watch a loved one lose their memories. It takes a significant personal toll. But the impact of Alzheimer's reaches far beyond our emotions. The financial cost to care for family members with the disease is astounding - and often times puts families in financial jeopardy.

In the time it takes to read this article, Americans will spend nearly $1 million to care for people with Alzheimer's disease-$18.3 million an hour, $439 million a day, $3.07 billion a week, $160 billion a year. Those are staggering numbers for families who face the disease every day.

Alzheimer's also places significant demands on the federal budget - especially on the Medicare program - and this fiscal impact will likely skyrocket over the years as Americans live longer and the nation's population ages.

These figures and trends are concerning, but they only show part of the picture.
A survey conducted by the Alzheimer's Association as part of its 2016 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures report shows millions of Americans are making enormous personal and financial sacrifices to care for relatives and friends with dementia. They are jeopardizing their own financial stability and forfeiting basic needs to provide for their loved ones.

According to the Alzheimer's Association report, care contributors spend, on average, $5,155 per year of their own money to provide assistance to loved ones. To make ends meet, they are cutting back on basic necessities such as food, transportation, shelter, utilities and health care. 45 percent of spouses or partners and 17 percent of children of Alzheimer's patients risk their own financial future by spending money from their personal savings and retirement accounts.

We're also seeing the consequence Alzheimer's is having on the American workforce. The demands of caregiving often cause many to work fewer hours (27 percent) or stop working entirely (29 percent). The average lost income for Americans who reduced their employment to help care for a loved one exceeded $15,000. More than 10 percent cut back on their children's educational expenses, indicating that the financial impact of dementia could affect families for generations to come.

There is no prevention, treatment, or cure for Alzheimer's. Thankfully, we're moving in the right direction. In recent years, Congress has passed legislation requiring the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to make an annual professional recommendation on the appropriate level of funding needed to meet the challenge of Alzheimer's disease. This year, Congress enacted a significant increase in funding for Alzheimer's research.

Alzheimer's is a tragic illness that robs its victims of one of their life's greatest possessions - their memories. Working together, I am confident we can end it.