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This Week in Washington


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September is World Alzheimer's Month, a time designated for raising awareness of this fatal brain disease and the nearly 35 million people around the world who suffer from it. After 100 years since its discovery, we still don't have a cure. There are some who believe Alzheimer's is a normal part of getting old, but that is just not true. It is one of nature's cruelest diseases, robbing people of their ability to look back on their lives and remember the wonderful times spent with family and friends.

Alzheimer's, which is the most common form of dementia, is a progressive disease. Symptoms gradually worsen over time. The inability to recall minor details, changes in behavior, and the inability to think straight are the earliest symptoms. But as the disease advances, symptoms worsen, causing confusion, irritability, mood swings, trouble in speaking and long-term memory loss. Victims of Alzheimer's often withdraw from their family and society entirely. Eventually, the disease causes essential bodily functions to cease, causing death.

Over the years, Congress has played an important role in the fight for a cure. I have urged the House Appropriations Committee to fully fund the National Institutes of Health this year so that researchers have the resources they need to continue their work, and I have cosponsored legislation to ensure individuals with Alzheimer's are covered for comprehensive diagnosis and treatment services through the Medicare program. But there is still much work to be done.

Because we still don't have a cure, victims of Alzheimer's rely on family and friends for assistance and near round-the-clock care, especially at the earliest stages of the disease's onset. Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's comes at a terrible emotional cost, because, eventually, the disease will eliminate the memory of the afflicted as their loved ones look on helplessly. I have spoken with many folks -- too many -- who suffer from, or care for someone who suffers from this terrible disease, and their stories break my heart. I was honored to support legislation on their behalf to begin implementation of a nationwide plan to end Alzheimer's by 2025.

I know of no one who hasn't been touched by this disease, either through family or friends. In total, 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, and experts predict that by 2050, unless a cure is found, that number will more than triple. Beyond the emotional costs are the financial ones, as Alzheimer's costs the Medicare program over $100 billion a year, the Medicaid program over $35 billion, and another $50 billion in out-of-pocket and other expenses. Given the current financial strains that Medicare and Medicaid are experiencing, the prospect of three times as many Alzheimer's cases arising over the next 40 years will surely place additional heavy burdens on programs already stressed by the never ending raiding of the Medicare trust funds by those in Washington. The need to find a cure has become all the more urgent.

We must preserve and protect home health care and hospice care to give our seniors the dignity and care they deserve in the twilight of their lives. Whether battling the mental challenges of Alzheimer's or dementia, or fighting to overcome physical debilitations, we must do our best to ensure quality care and the respect our seniors deserve. All of us owe a huge debt of gratitude, respect and care to those who came before us, and this is one of the most important ways we can do that. By fighting to ensure the best and most effective care in the most dignified and respectable fashion, we preserve and protect those who helped build our nation and work to repay all that we owe our parents and grandparents.

I have always been concerned with excessive government spending, reducing our budget deficit and paying off the national debt. My work in Congress has been focused on fighting for reductions in overall spending levels. However, while the fight to reduce government spending continues, we cannot forget the importance of our national investments in research and development and the costs, both human and capital we could save by curing a disease such as Alzheimer's. We need only look to the past to see the great work our nation has done to help Americans live healthy, longer and more productive lives. It is my hope now that we can continue this great American tradition by setting our sights on eradicating Alzheimer's disease, once and for all.

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