By DEVIN HEILMAN
COEUR d’ALENE — The Alzheimer's Association is inching closer to the funds it needs to significantly move forward with research that could effectively treat and someday prevent the disease.
"The experts tell us that they need $2 billion a year," said Bob Le Roy, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter. "In the current year, there is $1.4 billion dedicated to Alzheimer’s research, and we are very excited because that represents more than double the amount that was available for Alzheimer's research just three years ago."
This increase, Le Roy said, is happening "in no small part" because of the work of those who advocate for the patients and caregivers; it's "your voices, the voices of tens of thousands of Alzheimer's advocates across the country, sending a message to Congress that this is important."
The Washington State Chapter, which also serves North Idaho, held a public policy town hall meeting Friday afternoon at Lake City Center. More than 20 people assembled to hear updates from Le Roy as well as Idaho AARP president Tom Trail, Alzheimer's patient and advocate Dan Mimmack and Dr. Jim Arthurs.
Le Roy said this year, the Alzheimer's Association will ask the federal government for an additional $414 million for research. Looking ahead to 2018, he said, they're projecting the funding to increase to $1.8 billion.
"We're very close to that $2 billion-a-year ceiling, but we're not quite there yet," he said. "We need to continue to send that message about the importance of federal funding for Alzheimer's research."
He said another federal priority for the association is the pending Palliative Care and Hospice Education Training Act.
"There are far too few people and far too few providers that are aware of the relevance and value of palliative and hospice care," Le Roy said. "In the act, there are provisions to establish workforce training for doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Not only to make them aware of palliative and hospice care, but how to deliver it or to connect to folks who can and can do it well."
Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading age- adjusted cause of death in Idaho, with about 23,000 Idahoans living with Alzheimer's or other dementias. By 2025, Le Roy said that number will increase by 10,000. This is something that affects society emotionally and economically.
"Alzheimer's is the most expensive disease in America," he said. "The burden is great and rapidly growing. It costs three times as much in Medicare dollars to treat someone as it does to care for someone with any other chronic disease... We're not that far away from a time when the annual cost of Alzheimer's care from the federal government will exceed $1 trillion. That's enough to bankrupt our healthcare system. So, we need to do something."
Mimmack, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the age of 58, said he wanted to make a profound request of those who attended the meeting.
"Never let it go away from your thoughts," he said. "People like me are counting on you. Thousands and thousands of people who suffer from dementia count on people like you sitting in rooms like this to make a difference."