Alzheimer's Disease: Fund the Research Now

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: January 26, 2012 3:55 AM
 Nancy Smith 150x207

Nancy Smith

How sad is it that Florida, the state with the largest per-capita population over age 65, invests zero dollars in Alzheimer's research?


An estimated 523,000 Floridians have Alzheimer's disease today. And you know what? By 2025, with the "silver tsunami" of baby boomers rolling toward retirement, that number is expected to leap 40 percent.

One in 40 Floridians has the disease; over the age of 85, it's one of two -- or, half. Believe me, up close and personal Alzheimer's numbers will stagger a billygoat.

This mysterious thief of a disease that slowly jumbles the brain, steals the mind and leaves no survivors sucks up $1 billion of the state's $17 billion annual Medicaid budget. And beyond the cost to taxpayers is the damage and desperation it inflicts on thousands upon thousands of Florida families.

Medicare, by the way, does not pay for extended nursing care. Few have or can afford long-term care insurance, which is unavailable in the early stages of the disease. There is nothing but the underfunded, ultra-restrictive Medicaid program that requires a person to become impoverished to get into a nursing home, or get home care.

We have millions of Americans, loved ones, carrying the greater burden in caring and paying for the care of Alzheimer's patients. Inadequate as it is for Alzheimer's victims, Medicare spends $40 billion a year to provide them with medical care; that will increase.

Give the state its due, it invested $100 million in developing the Byrd Alzheimer's Institute on the campus of the University of South Florida. But not since 2008 has it thrown in a dime for research. And when the state fails to make an investment, you can kiss grant money and researchers goodbye. You won't attract either.

But wait.

The state's indifference aside, researchers at Byrd are convinced they're on the edge of a breathtaking breakthrough in Alzheimer's treatment and ultimate prevention.

"I'm absolutely convinced that by 2020 we will be able to prevent Alzheimer's disease," said Dave Morgan, director of the University of South Florida Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute. "It's a promise I've made to the people of Florida."

Morgan claims doctors can keep Alzheimer's disease at bay just as they do heart disease, by concentrating on risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

He said technological advances and discoveries at Byrd and elsewhere have shown him how to combat the disease.

Now physicians don't have to wait for an autopsy to figure out what's going on in the brain. They have PET scans (positron emission tomography) that let them see Alzheimer's as it progresses.

"We can detect individuals with the nerve-killing amyloid proteins associated with Alzheimer's early," Morgan explained. "and begin treating them before symptoms -- which is permanent brain damage -- show themselves."

What Morgan and the Byrd Institute want is a modest $3 million from the Legislature to attract grants and more researchers, to make a cure happen right here in Florida by 2020.

I say "a modest $3 million" for a reason:

"If we were to delay the institutionalization of every indigent patient in Florida by two days," said Morgan, "we would have made back every penny of that $3 million. It would cost us nothing."

Legislators, please pay attention here.

Right now ours is one of only 11 states in the nation without an Alzheimer's action plan to meet the crush of baby boomers heading our way -- though Rep. Matt Hudson and Sen. Garrett Richter, both Republican and both from Naples, are co-sponsoring such a bill this session.

And Alzheimer's falls further and further behind in terms of the money spent on the disease that goes to research: for AIDS, 20 percent; for cancer, 4 percent; for cardiovascular diseases, 2 percent; and for Alzheimer's, less than 0.5 percent -- that's less than one-half of 1 percent.

By 2050, say the bean-counters in Washington, the care of Alzheimer's patients in America will surpass the nation's military budget and cost an annual $800 billion.

Florida, meanwhile, can be so special.

It can make a laughingstock of the bean-counters' numbers.

Florida right now can recognize that ignoring Alzheimer's disease has nothing to do with frugality, that it is false economy, plain and simple.

Our leaders can choose to invest in the researchers, believe in the possibilities, and go for the big bang of saving lives and saving money, all at the same time.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at (850) 727-0859.

Comments (8)

3:20PM JUL 23RD 2012
If what Michelle says is true, and even if it is not, how can Mr. Rubio or any political figure justify a trip to visit other countries paid for with taxpayer money against a visit paid for with his or her own money to an Alzheimer facility? it seems only when the need becomes personal will the politician step up. The millions spent on elections could eliminate the disease.
3:06PM JAN 26TH 2012
Let it be noted that ALL funding for Alzheimer's research was cut while Marco Rubio was Speaker. However, he did approve ALL of the money to go to the "Taj Mahal" courthouse. Obviously the Republican regime in Florida cares more about giving judges a luxurious place to work than they do about the lives of their constituents!!!
Joan B.
2:59PM JAN 26TH 2012
Joanne, as an individual who's life has been greatly affected by cancer I am very appreciative of cancer research. Yes, people are still diagnosed with cancer. However, the research has saved lives that would not have been saved before the research was done to improve the treatments.

I agree with Ms. Smith that an investment in Alzheimer's research is worthwhile.
John W
1:26PM JAN 26TH 2012
Joanne, death is also inherent to human life. But you rarely, rarely hear a complaint from anyone who"s life has been saved by advances in modern medicine or from all of us who are living to an older age thanks to the prevention of cancers and heart disease, etc. And ... in response to Joe below, just two words: Ronald Reagan.
Joanne Walczak
11:20AM JAN 26TH 2012
More money to line the pockets of the administrator.And in the end we
will still have dementia,like all the money given to cancer research. No cure. These diseases are inherent to human life.
Jim B.
9:54AM JAN 26TH 2012
Nancy, I agree that we should invest and with all investments there are rewards or losses. If we gain nothing then the taxpayer loses that money. However, if a cure is found then the cost of the cure should be given to the taxpayer not sold to a company that will then jack up prices. If we the taxpayers are the investors then we the taxpayers should receive the benefits.
7:54AM JAN 26TH 2012
Thank you Ms. Smith! I wholeheartedly agree it's an investment and a worthy one. Especially that the researchers are working on preventing Alzheimers and not just treating it. (In today's world with Alzheimers, and the other big diseases that adage that goes "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" can be changed to read "an ounce of prevention is worth 4 or more pounds of treatment".)

"Morgan claims doctors can keep Alzheimer's disease at bay just as they do heart disease, by concentrating on risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol."

I've read that's because some research shows that Alzheimers is like diabetes of the brain.

Which makes the advice for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease currently good for preventing Alzheimers: get your exercise, eat healthier, take fish oil- just make sure its been purified and doesn't have too much cholesterol, manage your stress, and get enough sleep. (Oh, and just for haha's, stay away from algae covered water...)
7:53AM JAN 26TH 2012
Why on earth would a state that votes republican think anybody really cares what happens to the elderly. We don't need an alert on top of their game old person. We need a docile confused cash cow with good insurance and their closest relative living in another state.

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