The American Health Assistance Foundation (AHAF), a nonprofit organization funding innovative research through its Alzheimer’s Disease Research (ADR) program, today announced that the number of scientists seeking ADR research grants through its annual application process increased by 33% this year. “It’s a sign of difficult times for the scientific community,” said AHAF Vice President of Scientific Affairs Guy Eakin, Ph.D. “Finding government funding is tough now, and more researchers are looking to private funding sources like AHAF than ever before. But we can’t meet all the need,” he added.
AHAF was flooded with 332 grant proposals, involving 700 scientists at 213 organizations. This year’s funding applicants collectively requested more than $83.9 million – a figure exceeding the $74 million that ADR has granted to researchers over the past 25 years.
In the U.S., the deadlock in Congress on how to handle the federal budget deficit has raised questions about the future and levels of Alzheimer’s disease research funding through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The “Silver Tsunami” Threat of Unmet Need
The uncertainty over federal funding for Alzheimer’s research takes on more urgency in the face of a huge demographic wave of people facing Alzheimer’s over the next three decades. Today, 5.4 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, a number expected to triple over the next 40 years. “These figures could bankrupt our health care system,” said Eakin.
Now in their 80s or older, more than one in three members of the surviving World War II generation is estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease. The post-war Baby Boomer generation is also confronting Alzheimer’s disease directly, as caregivers for the previous generation and as patients themselves. “Boomers are reaching age 65 at the rate of one every eight seconds. At that age, one’s risk of having Alzheimer’s doubles every five years,” noted Eakin.
Very Early Signs and Symptoms
Memory problems are typically one of the first warning signs of cognitive loss, possibly due to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Some people with memory problems have a condition called amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI). People with this condition have more memory problems than normal for people their age, but their symptoms are not as severe as those seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Other recent studies have found links between some movement difficulties and MCI. Researchers also have seen links between MCI and some problems with the sense of smell. The ability of people with MCI to perform normal daily activities is not significantly impaired. However, more older people with MCI, compared with those without MCI, go on to develop Alzheimer’s.
A decline in other aspects of cognition, such as word-finding, vision/spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment, may also signal the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists are looking to see whether brain imaging and biomarker studies, for example, of people with MCI and those with a family history of Alzheimer’s, can detect early changes in the brain like those seen in Alzheimer’s. Initial studies indicate that early detection using biomarkers and imaging may be possible, but findings will need to be confirmed by other studies before these techniques can be used to help with diagnosis in everyday medical practice.
These and other studies offer hope that someday we may have tools that could help detect Alzheimer’s early, track the course of the disease, and monitor response to treatments.
Alzheimer’s research is already substantially underfunded compared to other serious diseases affecting large populations. Last year Congress allocated several billion dollars each for heart disease and cancer, but only $450 million for Alzheimer’s disease.
“Of the top 10 deadliest diseases in the U.S., only Alzheimer’s disease has no treatment to slow or stop the disease beyond symptomatic treatments. There is currently no prevention, no remission, and no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. That’s all the more reason why more research is desperately needed,” Eakin added.
Cuts to NIH funding, or even maintenance of funding at current inadequate levels, could prove expensive in the decades to come, given the rising costs of caring for increasing numbers of Alzheimer’s patients. The price tag is an estimated $183 billion this year, and is projected to rise to a cumulative $10 trillion over the next 10 years, and a cumulative $20.4 trillion over the next four decades.
Inability to communicate
Inability to recognize people, places and objects
Cannot participate in any personal care activities
Loses ability to walk
Loses ability to smile
Muscles may become contracted
May lose ability to swallow
Seizures may occur
Majority of time spent sleeping
May exhibit a need to suck on items
As the symptoms of AD increase, the demands placed on the caregiver increase. Care becomes more physically demanding and more time-consuming. At some point, most caregivers require outside help.
Guy Eakin discussed the top trends in Alzheimer’s disease research in a new AHAF Question and Answer feature, The State of Research on Alzheimer’s Disease.
For Some Scientists, It’s Personal Now
“Unfortunately, more and more people are learning about Alzheimer’s disease from experience, often because they know a loved one with the disease,” said Eakin. Many relatives are determined to do something about the Alzheimer’s crisis – including those in the scientific community.
“My work took on a very personal nature when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Gary Landreth, Ph.D., of Case Western University in Cleveland, a recipient of AHAF research grants.
Marta Cortes-Canteli, Ph.D., an AHAF grantee at Rockefeller University in New York, explained, “I decided to study Alzheimer’s disease because it is a heart-breaking disorder, not only for patients but also their families. I know this from personal experience since my paternal grandfather died with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Honoring Veterans on 11/11, and Caring for Those with Alzheimer’s Disease
“Alzheimer’s can strike a wide range of ages, but for most of us, our window of greatest risk begins around age 65 and increases for the remainder of our lives,” noted Eakin. This means the Alzheimer’s epidemic is reaching growing numbers of Vietnam veterans, in addition to the older veterans of World War II and Korea.
The younger veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars may be facing a new risk for the disorder. Thanks to modern medicine, a number of these vets have survived head trauma that would have been fatal in previous eras. New evidence suggests that some of these veterans’ injuries may also put them at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease in the future. “It’s clear that traumatic brain injury is an important and sorely understudied topic with very clear implications from the sports arena to the battlefield,” said Eakin.
Veterans Gonzalo Garza and Frank Fuerst served in the military and later provided caregiving for spouses with Alzheimer’s disease. Each wrote a book to share his experiences with others, and both tell their story on the AHAF website.
More than 70% of those with Alzheimer’s disease are cared for at home, often by loved ones without formal training, making the economic and human toll on families another tragic aspect of this disease. More than six out of ten Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers rank the emotional stress of providing care as high or very high. Resources for caregivers are available on AHAF’s Living with Alzheimer’s web page.
About the American Health Assistance Foundation
The American Health Assistance Foundation (http://www.ahaf.org) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding cures for age-related degenerative diseases by funding research worldwide under its three programs: Alzheimer’s Disease Research, Macular Degeneration Research, and National Glaucoma Research. AHAF also provides public information about these diseases, including risk factors, preventative lifestyles, current treatments, and coping strategies.
To learn more about degenerative disease research, visit http://www.ahaf.org/research or call 800-437-2423. Stay connected to ground-breaking research news by signing up for AHAF eAlerts at http://www.ahaf.org/news To fo.llow AHAF on Twitter and Facebook visit http://www.ahaf.org/connect.
Melissa May, Vice President of Marketing and Communications
American Health Assistance Foundation
Alice L. Kirkman, Marketing and Communications Manager
American Health Assistance Foundation
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American Health Assistance Foundation