More funding, more focus needed to address growth rate of Alzheimer’s disease

Rep. Barber at Alzheimer's eventDid you know that one in three U.S. seniors dies with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?

Or that women are at the epicenter of the disease, representing two-thirds of those diagnosed?

There are 120,000 seniors living in Arizona right now with the disease, with those numbers set to grow in the coming years as we live longer and as more retirees move here for the desert environment. In fact, Arizona is third in the nation in terms of the projected growth rate of those living with Alzheimer’s by the year 2025.

U.S. Rep. Ron Barber told an audience of about 60 Wednesday morning that addressing those staggering numbers will require raising political awareness of the significant need for additional funding and focus.

“We have to put more money into research,” said Barber, who serves on a congressional task force studying Alzheimer’s and who spoke at the Coffee with Congress event hosted by Tucson Medical Center and sponsored by the Desert Southwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

While the federal government spends about $150 billion providing care for those affected by Alzheimer’s, only about $560 million is spent annually on research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

CoffeeWithCongress2Congress in 2010 passed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which calls for a national plan to address Alzheimer’s and related disorders, as well as an annual evaluation of federally funded research efforts.

Barber said more is needed, especially since every 67 seconds, one more American is diagnosed with the disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Despite its pervasiveness, Barber said half of Americans living with Alzheimer’s have never been properly diagnosed. “For all kinds of reasons, we must fight to make sure we have every weapon at our disposal to deal with Alzheimer’s, to get out in front of it and to support people who are living with it,” said Barber, who is signed on as a cosponsor of the HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act, which would provide Medicare coverage for expanded clinical diagnosis and care planning.

Arizona’s first statewide plan to address Alzheimer’s is expected to be released before the end of the calendar year, a result of years of work between the Alzheimer’s Association, state agencies, the private sector and those affected by the disease.

Deborah Schaus, executive director for the Association’s Desert Southwest Chapter, said the goal ultimately is to help not just those diagnosed with the disease, but their caregivers as well, many of whom are seniors living with their own chronic conditions and are deeply affected by the stress, isolation and depression that can result.

Educational opportunities exist as well, she said, noting a recent statewide survey found that even though one in six people over the age of 45 report experiencing memory loss, 77 percent have not spoken with a health professional about it.

“We have to take steps forward in communities throughout our state to remove some of the stigma and remove some of that hesitancy about reaching out for help,” she said.

Judy Rich, President and CEO of Tucson Medical Center, she was grateful for community partnerships in addressing issues of aging, whether through direct services or support.

With one-quarter of the state’s population projected to be over the age of 60 by the year 2020, Rich noted TMC is expanding its senior services to care for older adults in new ways. The new Geropsychiatric Center at Handmaker will open in January to provide critical behavioral health services for seniors, and TMC recently opened a Health Assessment Clinic for seniors with complex needs.

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