The New Republic this week published a lengthy, powerful piece by Kent Russell on Alzheimer’s. Russell opens the piece by noting that we are approaching a public health crisis in Alzheimer’s and dementia:
Alzheimer’s disease is practically unheard of in adults younger than 40, and very rare (one in 2,500) for those under 60. It affects 1 percent of 65-year-olds, 2 percent of 68-year-olds, 3 percent of 70-year-olds. After that, the odds start multiplying. The likelihood of your developing Alzheimer’s more or less doubles every five years past 65. Should you make it to 85, you will have, roughly, a fifty-fifty shot at remaining sane.
Eighty-five, though! That’s infinity-and-a-day away. Except that, by 2030, the population of Americans aged 65 and over also will have doubled. At that point, the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s or related dementias around the world is expected to hit 76 million. Twenty years after that, in 2050, the number will be 135 million, including new cases in rapidly modernizing places like China and sub-Saharan Africa. The cost of their care in this country alone is projected to hit $1 trillion per annum, inflation not included.
But the most powerful parts of his story focus on his experiences as a caregiver:
In the early hours of the morning, the old man wakes, certain that he has forgotten something. He walks into the bathroom and is puzzled by the new tiling and fixtures. He looks around, vaguely recognizing the space and its utility. He can’t remember why he’s come. He examines the many objects next to the sink. He picks up a green-handled thing with prickle thingies, squeezes a gooey something onto it. He looks into the mirror and is frozen with horror.
The full story may be read here. It’s a long read, but well worth it.
Back in July, BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood spoke at the Concussion Awareness Summit, which explored links between Alzheimer’s Disease and Traumatic Brain Injury. In his comments, Greenwood discussed the need for big, bold actions and strong policy to address the growing public health challenges of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia—and to ensure that more medical innovations can make it from the lab bench to the patients who need them most.
“The reality is that no matter how good your science is and no matter how skillful the entrepreneurs involved in running the companies trying to develop these products are…in the absence of a strong policy environment, you simply can’t succeed,” Greenwood said. “That means funding basic research at NIH. It means policies that drive technology transfer from the academic community into start-ups and it means appropriate tax policy. It means supporting and incubating start-up companies and getting them through the valley of death. It means the right regulatory policies at FDA, the protection of intellectual property and adequate reimbursement. All of these policies have to be right to attract investment into our industry.”