June 23, 2011 / 10:58 PM / 8 years ago

Experts warn U.S. to boost Alzheimer's funding

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Alzheimer’s experts urged U.S. lawmakers on Thursday to increase funding for research of the debilitating disease and to push international policymakers to pay more attention to its global impact.

They said the United States had fallen behind in efforts to meet the growing burden of Alzheimer’s, and called on U.S. lawmakers to start pushing for more funding and taking greater leadership in the global Alzheimer’s fight.

“Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are a global problem,” Dr. Daisy Acosta, a researcher from the Dominican Republic who chairs the executive board of Alzheimer’s Disease International, told the U.S. House of Representatives’ subcommittee that oversees global health issues.

Her group estimates there are now 37 million people with Alzheimer’s in the world, and because of global aging, that number will increase to 66 million by 2030, and to 115 million by 2050.

The hearing is one of the first in the United States to take on the growing problem of Alzheimer’s, a fatal disease that robs the brain of its thinking ability and drains family caregivers of their time and financial resources.

“In developing countries, the burden of the disease falls almost completely on the families and these countries will see the largest increase in numbers in the next decades,” Acosta told the panel.

She said awareness of Alzheimer’s is increasing globally, and several countries have launched a national plan or strategy for dealing with the disease. Countries with such plans include Australia, France and South Korea but not the United States.

Acosta said U.S. budgets for Alzheimer’s research have not kept pace with the disease, and urged U.S. lawmakers to take a leadership role in funding Alzheimer’s research.

“Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are the single most significant health and social crisis of the 21st century. The impact today is massive, and will accelerate in years to come. We must prepare now for the social and economic disruptions that this disease will cause.”

More than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s and some experts estimate that Alzheimer’s costs Americans over $170 billion annually. It is estimated to cost $604 billion each year to treat it globally.

Representative Chris Smith, chairman of the global health subcommittee on the Foreign Affairs Committee, which organized the panel, said U.S. lawmakers needed to pressure international institutions responsible for health issues to recognize dementia as a global health problem.

Smith, who also co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, and Representative Edward Markey sent a letter signed by 28 members of Congress to United Nations General Assembly President Joseph Deiss to include Alzheimer’s disease in the upcoming U.N. Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases in September.

He said involvement by the U.N. and the World Health Organization will be needed to make progress toward raising awareness of dementia and addressing it in national health care policies.

Smith and Markey co-sponsored The National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which was signed into law in January. The project will coordinate government-wide efforts to prevent and treat the disease and create a national strategy for defeating Alzheimer’s.

Editing by Paul Simao

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