Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Association Statement on ASG Report

The Alzheimer's Association commends the independent Alzheimer's Study Group (ASG) on their report released today, “A National Alzheimer’s Strategic Plan: The Report of the Alzheimer’s Study Group”. The report explains the looming national crisis created by Alzheimer’s disease and offers real solutions for the nation.

Alzheimer's Association President and CEO Harry Johns, along with members of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease called for the creation of the Alzheimer’s Study Group in July of 2007. Today the Alzheimer's Association is pleased to receive the report on behalf of the larger Alzheimer community.

“You can be assured that the Alzheimer’s Association will play a leading role in seeking the enactment of the core recommendations present in the ASG report, says Johns, “There must be an investment in Alzheimer’s proportionate to the current and future impact of the disease. This investment must be far more than the grossly inadequate funding today.”

The ASG report confirms that we will spend nearly $20 trillion on Alzheimer’s by the middle of the century. That’s equal to 25 stimulus bills — more than one stimulus sized bill every other year between now and then.

Johns continues, “For the federal government, state government and families – the economic impact of Alzheimer’s is devastating. We must seize the solutions presented in the ASG report and invest in initiatives that result in better coordinated care, more supportive services for families and ultimately the prevention of the disease. An investment in Alzheimer’s is not only good social policy, it is an economic necessity.”

The Alzheimer's Association also thanks ASG co-chairs Former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Former Senator Bob Kerrey, ASG members Christine Cassel, Meryl Comer, Steven E. Hyman, Henry McCance, Mark McClellan, Sandra Day O’Connor, James Runde, David Satcher, and Harold Varmus, and ASG Executive Director Robert Egge for their outstanding work.

The Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer's Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s. For more information, visit

Alzheimer's Association
Media line: 312.335.4078

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alzheimer's and Dementia Triple Health Care Costs

Washington, D.C., March 24, 2009 – Total healthcare costs are more than three times higher for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias than for other people age 65 and older, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2009 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, released today.

In the new report, total healthcare costs are calculated as per person payments measured from all sources. Medicare payments alone are almost three times higher for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia than for others age 65 and over; Medicaid payments alone are more than nine times higher.

“With the country facing unprecedented economic challenges and a rapidly aging baby boomer population, now is the time to address the burgeoning Alzheimer crisis that triples healthcare costs for Americans age 65 and over,” said Harry Johns, Alzheimer’s Association CEO.

“It is widely understood that addressing health care is key to the country regaining its financial footing,” continued Johns. “And there is no way this can be done without improving Medicare and Medicaid which Alzheimer’s directly impacts. A strategy to immediately confront Alzheimer’s has the potential to save millions of lives and billions of dollars by reducing the burden on Medicare and Medicaid.”

People with Alzheimer’s are high consumers of hospital, nursing home and other health and long-term care services, which translates into high costs for Medicare, Medicaid and millions of families. As families struggle to survive in a deepening recession and as states grapple with budget shortfalls, Alzheimer’s disease threatens to overwhelm them both. Most people with Alzheimer’s also have one or more additional serious medical conditions, such as diabetes or coronary heart disease. Their Alzheimer’s greatly complicates the medical management for these other conditions and drives up costs significantly.

According to the Facts and Figures report, in 2006:
 Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes plus Alzheimer’s or another dementia had 64 percent more hospital stays than those with diabetes and no Alzheimer’s, and their average per person Medicare costs were $20,655 compared to $12,979 for beneficiaries with diabetes but no Alzheimer’s or dementia.

 Medicare beneficiaries with coronary heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia had 42 percent more hospital stays than those with coronary heart disease and no Alzheimer’s or dementia, and their average per person Medicare costs were $20,780 compared to $14,640 for beneficiaries with coronary heart disease but no Alzheimer’s or dementia.

With family members providing care at home for about 70 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the ripple effects of the disease can be felt throughout the entire family. According to Facts and Figures, in 2008, nearly 10 million Alzheimer caregivers in the U.S. provided 8.5 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $94 billion. In addition to the unpaid care families contribute, the report also reveals that Alzheimer’s creates high out-of-pocket health and
long-term care expenses for families. Out-of-pocket costs that are not covered by Medicare, Medicaid or other sources of insurance are 28 percent higher for Medicare beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s than those without. Individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementia living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities incurred the highest out-of-pocket costs – an average of $16,689 a year.

Growing Prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
According to the report, there are 5.3 million Americans living with the disease and every 70 seconds someone in America develops Alzheimer’s disease. By mid-century someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds. By 2010, there will be nearly a half million new cases of Alzheimer’s each year; and by 2050, there will be nearly a million new cases per year.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the country, surpassing diabetes; it is the fifth leading cause of death among individuals 65 and older. From 2000 to 2006, while deaths from other major diseases dropped -- heart disease (-11.5 percent), breast cancer (-.6 percent), prostate cancer (-14.3 percent) and stroke (-18.1 percent), deaths from Alzheimer’s disease rose 47.1 percent.

“Currently, there are no treatments that can prevent, delay or reverse Alzheimer disease and research funding has been stagnant for the past six years. With the first baby boomers turning age 65 in just two short years – and entering the arena of increasing risk for developing Alzheimer’s – an aggressive plan is needed now to address the threat of this disease. There are too many lives, too little time and too much at stake for anything less,” Johns said.

Implications for States
Demographic trends indicate that the number of affected individuals and families will grow significantly in the years to come, not only having a profound effect on families and health systems but on state budgets as well. In order for states to plan for this rapidly growing population, they must first have reliable information about the characteristics and needs of their residents who are coping with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. An existing survey process is the easiest way to obtain this important information. The Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System (BRFSS) is an annual state public health survey done in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since 2003, some states have added questions about caregiving for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in their BRFSS surveys.

The new Facts and Figures report highlights the BRFSS survey findings from the states of Washington and North Carolina. The BRFSS survey allows residents to say for themselves what their challenges are. For example in Washington, 48 percent of the caregivers for individuals with memory loss or cognitive impairment revealed that stress was the greatest difficulty they faced. Beginning this year, an approved set of family caregiving questions is available for all states to add to their BRFSS survey, and another set of questions on cognitive impairment is being developed for 2010.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – An Emerging Issue
Experts believe that early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and early intervention with improved therapies provides the greatest opportunity to delay or stop additional damage to the brain. To that end, the new report highlights the emerging role of a condition known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). A person with MCI has problems with memory, language or other essential cognitive functions that are severe enough to be noticeable to the individual and others, but not severe to interfere with daily life.

There is consensus within the scientific research community that intervention with any
disease-modifying treatment should occur as early as possible, ideally even before symptoms appear. Individuals with MCI have a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, but more research is needed to determine why some people with MCI go on to develop Alzheimer’s and why some do not. By participating in scientific studies and clinical trials, individuals with MCI will help to speed progress in finding ways to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s by providing scientists with the opportunity to test new Alzheimer treatments and learn faster whether or not the treatments work.

“There is a rich, diverse variety of treatment possibilities for Alzheimer’s that scientists are exploring, offering great hope that drugs that may slow or even reverse disease progression could be on the horizon – saving millions of dollars in public health programs,” said Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D, the Alzheimer’s Association’s Medical Scientific Advisory Council Chair. “A national strategy and a sustained commitment to Alzheimer research is what is needed to today to make Alzheimer survivors tomorrow.”

The full text of the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2009 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures can be viewed at The full report is scheduled to appear in the Mary 2009 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association (volume 5, issue 3)

The Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer's Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Building Neural Roads

Whether you have Alzheimer’s or are of a certain age that you’ve started routinely forgetting where you put your keys, you’re probably hearing a lot about the benefits of “exercising your brain.” We hear this “use it or lose it” philosophy mentioned frequently in sound bytes from medical experts, but what are they really asking us to do? And why? Are they just trying to get us to do lots and lots of crossword puzzles?

Here’s what they mean. Let’s think of the neurons in your head as roads, and let’s say you’re trying to remember a piece of information. Let’s say you’re trying to remember my name: Lisa Genova. When you think, “What is her name?” your brain starts looking for the road that will take it to the answer. You might travel down the road “VOICE OPEN MOVE Blogger” to get to Lisa Genova.

If you’ve only been to this Blog once, and that’s the only piece of information you know about me, you might have a hard time at first finding that one and only road. And because it hasn’t been well-traveled, the road might be small, unlabelled, maybe not even paved. It might take you a few minutes (or all day!) to remember my name.

But if you start going to my Blog over and over, if you travel this particular road over and over, or in other words, if you practice and rehearse this information, “Lisa Genova is the VOICE OPEN MOVE Blogger,” then the road becomes stronger. It becomes simple to find with a nicely labeled street sign, and it’s now wider and paved. After many experiences with “Lisa Genova is the VOICE OPEN MOVE Blogger,” this road becomes familiar territory, smooth and easy to travel on. You now know my name and can remember it easily.

But what happens if you are in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s, and amyloid-beta is starting to clog some of your synapses? Imagine amyloid-beta as a roadblock, keeping you from traveling down that road that leads to the information you’re looking for. What if amyloid beta is blocking the “VOICE OPEN MOVE Blogger” road to Lisa Genova. If this is the one and only road to my name, and it is blocked, then you can’t retrieve my name. Now when you ask yourself, “Who is the VOICE OPEN MOVE Blogger?” you cannot remember no matter how hard you think. The information is inaccessible. Forgotten.

But let’s say you paved more than one road to my name. Let’s say you also built “Author of Still Alice Street” and “Neuroscientist from Harvard Avenue” and “That Italian Scientist/Author who lives on Cape Cod Boulevard.” Now you can have a roadblock on “VOICE OPEN MOVE Blogger Road” and still have three other ways to get to my name. These other roads may not be the most direct routes to my name if you haven’t traveled them as much, but they’ll still lead you to Lisa Genova. You can still remember me.

The more connections you make to a piece of information (the more roads you build) and the more you use or rehearse that information (the more you travel those roads), the more able you’ll be to detour clogged connections (amyloid beta road blocks), and remember what you’re trying to remember.

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer's disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.

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