(Bloomberg) — Deaths linked to Alzheimer’s have increased in the last decade while those for stroke, breast cancer and HIV have dropped, say researchers calling for more funding for the memory-robbing disease.
Without treatment breakthroughs, the number of people in the United States aged 65 and older whose memories and personalities are claimed by the disease will more than double to 13.8 million in 2050, according to a report released Tuesday by the Alzheimer’s Association.
The U.S. in recent years has taken action to address a looming public health crisis tied to the aging of the baby boomers, the generation born from 1946 to 1964. While the National Alzheimer’s Project Act was signed into law in January 2011 to coordinate efforts to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s, funding hasn’t caught up, advocates and researchers say.
“Even before the sequester, the National Institute on Aging was only funding about 1 in 10 of the grants they received even though easily twice as many were meritorious,” says David Knopman, a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “It might get worse now.”
Automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, began March 1, though the effect on Alzheimer’s research funding is uncertain. The National Institutes of Health allocated $498 million to Alzheimer’s research in 2012, and U.S. funding was expected to increase to $529 million this year with an additional $80 million from a prevention and public health fund, according to NIH data.
Almost four times that amount — about $2.1 billion a year — is needed to make a dent in slowing, preventing or treating Alzheimer’s within 10 years, according to a report last year from researchers assembled by the Alzheimer’s Association. The NIH’s total proposed budget for fiscal 2013 is $31 billion.
The advocacy group is trying to pattern its campaign for greater Alzheimer’s funding after activists for other diseases such as breast cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV who have succeeded in raising funds and awareness for their causes.
Alzheimer’s as a cause of death increased 68% from 2000 to 2010, compared with declines of 23% for stroke, 8% for prostate cancer, 2% for breast cancer, 16% for heart disease and 42% for HIV, according to Tuesday’s report. Alzheimer’s now is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.
The problem has been, in part, a stigma around a disease with no cure and few treatments, says Beth Kallmyer, the association’s vice president of constituent services.
Like in the earlier days of cancer, “there’s nothing you can do,” Kallmyer says. “We don’t have survivors.”
As people are living longer and extending retirement sometimes even into their 70s, their passion for activism is starting to pick up, Carrillo says. “We’re seeing this rally cry starting now,” she says.
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