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Congress must adequately fund Alzeimer’s research

Many of us know someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s and also understand the challenges for the families of sufferers.

Patients often comb through scrapbooks, hoping family pictures will trigger memories. Spouses encourage loved ones living with the disease to try new hobbies that might slow the progression. Grandchildren ask frank questions, not understanding the disease. Grown children find themselves as caregivers for their parents.

There are over 130,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease in Virginia, but those close to this illness know that patients are not the only one affected.

Alzheimer’s devastates families and often overwhelms caregivers. In Virginia alone, 455,000 caregivers provided 519 million hours of unpaid care for individuals with dementia in 2015.

With the number of new Virginia Alzheimer’s patients expected to grow to as many as 190,000 by 2025, we can only imagine how many “invisible sufferers” will be faced with the financial and emotional burdens of a loved one’s dementia in the coming decade.

Discussions about this disease provide an opportunity to stand with those struggling with Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases and recognize how the growing number of diagnoses will strain our nation.

Already, nearly one in every five Medicare dollars is spent on someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia; by 2050, it will be nearly one in every three dollars. Between 2015 and 2050, caring for people with Alzheimer’s will cost our country $20.8 trillion.

One way we can prepare for the coming challenges is to invest in research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) already plays a critical role in Alzheimer’s research, which can find ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s faster, develop more effective treatments, and perhaps discover a cure one day.

However, Congress must adequately fund NIH’s biomedical research operations to realize these goals, and I hope that this year’s final Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill will do so.

Our nation can also prepare for the impending Alzheimer’s surge by offering newly diagnosed patients and families support and information about treatment options. For this reason, I am a proud cosponsor of the Health Outcomes, Planning and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer’s Act.

This bill would ensure patients and their families have access to a care planning session with their doctor to help them understand the diagnosis, treatment options and available medical and community services by requiring Medicare coverage for such planning services.

Studies have shown that providing patients and families with a full range of information and support results in better outcomes for those living with Alzheimer’s.

As a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, I am committed to working with my colleagues, patients, caregivers, the Alzheimer’s Association and other advocates to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.

If Congress invests in research, planning and care, we can improve outcomes for brain disease patients, alleviate the challenges caregivers face and find a cure to turn the images we associate with Alzheimer’s into distant memories.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
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