Across Political Boundaries, a Common Focus on Alzheimer’s

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association is working to raise funds to help with the effort to eliminate Alzheimer’s.

Liberals and conservatives may not agree on much, but across political boundaries they are finding a common goal in searching for treatment options for Alzheimer’s.

Beyond the emotional burdens felt by families dealing with various forms of dementia, the disease is the “fifth-biggest cause of death in high-income countries, but it is the most expensive disease to manage because patient require constant, costly care for years,” according to a recent article in Nature magazine.

A study funded by the National Institute on Aging found that in 2010 caring for dementia was costing up to $215 billion a year, more than for heart disease ($102 billion) and cancer ($77 billion).

In pursuit of a better treatment options, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association has just announced that it had surpassed its goal of donating $12 million to Alzheimer’s research.

In its press release, NARFE National President Richard G. Thissen stated, “All of our members know someone who has had Alzheimer’s – a family member, friend or acquaintance – and many of our members have been Alzheimer’s caregivers. They know first-hand the toll Alzheimer’s takes and how important it is to find a cure. We are proud to help fund vital research that will lead to a world without Alzheimer’s.”

Through a partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, IL, 100 percent of NARFE member donations go to Alzheimer’s research. NARFE has funded 71 projects since 1985.

Conservative advocates, such as Newt Gingrich, are taking a different approach. Rather than encourage a large government-funded research program, they are focusing on providing cash prizes to motivate researchers.

Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) has introduced the EUREKA Act. This bill (S. 2067) would establish prizes for breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research and would not replace the research grants awarded by NIH but would supplement those awards by stimulating more research.

Funding for these prizes “may consist of Federal appropriated funds, funds provided by private organizations, and individuals. The Director of NIH may solicit and accept funds from other Federal agencies, from private organizations, and individuals to support such prize competitions.”

In his blog, Gingrich writes:

While one traditional grant funds one research project, one cash prize attracts many competitors. Some competitors might be academic, like the usual recipients of NIH grants. But prizes might also draw competitors from the pharmaceutical or biotech industry, or from startups–all of them using their own funds in pursuit of the prize. As a result, the competition would induce useful research far beyond the amount the government put up for the prize.

So far, research has been disappointing. Most recently, Eli Lilly announced that an experimental Alzheimer’s drug failed in a large clinical trial, although it plans to continue testing several other drugs that may prove more successful.

One ray of hope is a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine that “the prevalence of dementia in the United States declined significantly between 2000 and 2012. An increase in educational attainment was associated with some of the decline in dementia prevalence, but the full set of social, behavioral, and medical factors contributing to the decline is still uncertain.”

Even with this improvement, which is happening for reasons that cannot be explained, millions of sufferers and their families continue to hope for a more permanent breakthrough that will one day make dementia as rare as polio.

About the Author

Michael Wald is a public affairs consultant and writer based in the Atlanta area. He specializes in topics related to government and labor issues. Prior to his retirement from the U.S. Department of Labor, he served as the agency’s Southeast Regional Director of Public Affairs and Southeast Regional Economist.