Key Challenges for Fighting Alzheimer’s Disease

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Nov. 8, 2011 — The Alzheimer’s Association in a new report has identified 10 “critical challenges” that need to be addressed by the nation to combat the growth and devastating impact of Alzheimer’s disease.

The challenges include lack of funding and problems with diagnosing Alzheimer’s.

An estimated 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s now, and that number is expected to grow to 16 million by the year 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Because of this looming health crisis, President Obama signed into law the National Alzheimer’s Project Act on Jan. 4, with the aim of creating a national strategic plan to address what the Alzheimer’s Association described as an “escalating crisis.”

The Alzheimer’s Association’s report, “Alzheimer’s from the Frontlines: Challenges a National Alzheimer’s Plan Must Address,” was produced to help the government develop its strategy.

Findings of the report were based on input from 43,000 people in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.

In all, the Alzheimer’s Association hosted 132 public input sessions nationwide, involving people with Alzheimer’s, caregivers, researchers, community leaders, and health care professionals.

“We want to make sure the administration is aware of the challenges that emerged, that we heard frequently, during the public input process,” Alzheimer’s Association spokeswoman Toni Williams tells WebMD. “We thought it would be a good idea to open it up to the public. We are hoping this helps to inform the advisory council and Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius [of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] in formulating a plan.”

Top Challenges in Fighting Alzheimer’s

The 10 challenges highlighted by the Alzheimer’s Association are:

  1. Lack of public knowledge and awareness of the disease
  2. Insufficient funding
  3. Problems in detecting and diagnosing the disease
  4. Poor dementia care
  5. Inadequate treatments
  6. Specific challenges faced by diverse communities
  7. Specific challenges faced by those with younger-onset Alzheimer’s
  8. Unprepared caregivers
  9. Ill-equipped communities
  10. Mounting costs of care

The new report shows that costs relating to Alzheimer’s care and treatment will surpass $1 trillion by mid-century unless the current trajectory of the disease changes.

“Individuals, families and communities are at the center of the escalating Alzheimer’s crisis,” Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, says in a news release.

Call to Action

Americans who participated in the sessions aimed at identifying challenges want the nation’s leaders to know that the disease changes lives, and that “they want and deserve a transformational plan that urgently addresses their needs,” Johns says.

Robert Egge, vice president of the Alzheimer’s Association, says the input sessions made it clear that people are not looking for symbolic acts but the start of “real, transformational action.”

He says, “we hope those developing the National Alzheimer’s Plan will be inspired and guided by the challenges, experiences and needs echoed throughout this report.”

Egge says many Americans know little about the disease, and education is needed about warning signs of the disease and incorrect perceptions about it. Also, though the goal is a cure, better treatments are needed, he says, and more funding for research.

Currently, caregivers are isolated and uninformed about the disease. He says African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and less likely to be diagnosed.

The new plan, he says, “must address disparities in diverse and underserved communities.”

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