The Alzheimer’s Hydra…

The Hydra of legend: cut off one of its heads, and it just grows back.

The Hydra of legend: Cut off one of its heads, and it just grows back.

Bill Myers

Washington, D.C.—Good afternoon, ProviderNation. The Alzheimer’s International Conference has come and gone, and my colleague Jackie Oberst (known affectionately ’round here as “The Managing Editor”) has done the hard work for us all.

Oberst, who has her PhD in some kind of science stuff, leads with the new promise of preventative treatments before those ghastly proteins do their dirty work. But her piece also raises a critical, if often unanswered, question: Who gets the check?

As Oberst puts it, “It costs $4 billion to $11 billion to develop one drug and takes an average of 12 years for it to travel from bench to bedside, according to the InnoThink Center for Research in Biomedical Innovation. Only five in 5,000 drugs that enter preclinical or animal testing progress to human testing—of those five drugs, only one is approved, according to the FDA.”

If you think that’s bad, don’t worry, it gets worse. According to “Generation Boomer,” a report by the fine folks at the Alzheimer’s Association, the U.S. government spends more than $6 billion a year on cancer research, $4 billion per year on heart disease, and more than $3 billion for HIV/AIDS. Alzheimer’s research gets $480 million.

It’s notorious that we live in an era of austerity, and not everyone thinks that it’s gummit’s role to pay the bills in the first place. But, if you agree that Alzheimer’s is a public health crisis, then the money has got to come from somewhere.

And here we come to another dilemma. Even if you could turn on the cash spigot tomorrow, there are tens of thousands of families and friends who won’t be able to enjoy a cure a decade from now: They need help immediately, says Dayne Duvall, chief operating officer of the National Certification Board for Alzheimer Care.

“It’s important that the government figures out how to provide care to families who are at the end of their tether,” Duvall tells us. “Families going through the toughest times of their lives aren’t interested in a cure that might be decades away. Not when they can’t find help for their loved one, right now.”

Supporting families and friends doesn’t have to mean advanced training (although that would certainly be a huge help), Duvall says. It can be as simple as giving someone an afternoon off.

But that, too, costs money. And it’s yet another venomous face of the Alzheimer’s hydra.

Bill Myers is Provider’s senior editor. Email him at Follow him on Twitter, @ProviderMyers.

1 Comment

Filed under health care, Long term care

One response to “The Alzheimer’s Hydra…

  1. As always, Bill Myers is ahead of the curve and ignites the CARE vs CURE debate in funding. Recently-released study shows that research dollars are not #1 priority for families who face this fatal disease.

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