September 21st’s World Alzheimer’s Day provides both a sobering reminder about the mounting toll of this disease, and also a reason for hope that, if we make a strong and lasting national and international commitment, we will be able to treat Alzheimer’s by 2025 and someday be able to prevent it from starting.
The numbers are simply staggering. A recent report found that the number of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias has reached 46.8 million worldwide, a number that may double every 20 years. Here in the United States, where we see approximately 500,000 new cases of Alzheimer’s each year, we are on the brink of a major public health crisis as an average of 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 each day. The demands on families, public and private health care systems, and our economy will only get worse until we stem this rising tide.
The good news is that this problem is increasingly receiving worldwide attention, and the science has never been more promising. Governments around the world, including the U.S., have made national Alzheimer’s plans. At BrightFocus, where we drive innovative science on diseases of mind and sight, we recently announced nearly $6 million in new grants through our Alzheimer’s Disease Research program, including support for several efforts to accelerate the pace of clinical trials. We have funded researchers in over 20 nations, partner with four European research groups, and recently brought international researchers together in Washington to discuss closer collaboration.
World Alzheimer’s Day also reminds us that we can learn from the successes of other countries. I am tremendously impressed by efforts in Europe where public and private sectors have united to create dementia-friendly communities, places where awareness and training have created a positive, supportive environment. Building upon similar success in Minnesota, organizers with Dementia-Friendly America are seeking to launch pilot programs across the U.S. BrightFocus is proud to support this campaign, and I encourage both public and private sector leaders to come together to make our nation more dementia-friendly.
Despite the terrible and staggering realities of Alzheimer’s in this country and around the globe, I do have reason for hope. I have had the chance to meet many of the world’s leading researchers, and I am deeply moved and inspired by their dedication and brilliance. Only through research will we end this disease, but to push new boundaries in scientific discovery we will need a strong and sustained level of support from both public and private sources. I am encouraged by recent bipartisan efforts in Washington to increase federal Alzheimer’s research, and hope this marks the beginning of an even greater national commitment. Is the cost of this research high? Yes. But the cost of inaction is far too great for families, our nation, and our world to bear.
At home and around the world, we have seen the results of people coming together to solve a problem. The progress we have made on HIV/AIDS, cancer, and heart disease show the power of uniting generosity and genius. Ending Alzheimer’s will take the full weight of the public, private, and philanthropic sectors. Alzheimer’s knows no borders, nor should our fight to end it.
World Alzheimer’s Day finds us at a crossroads. We are confronted by a mounting global health and economic crisis. But we are also seeing encouraging signs from our laboratories, local communities, and halls of government. Let today be the day we renew our sustained commitment to give hope and healing to millions of families around the world.
Stacy Pagos Haller is the President and CEO of the BrightFocus Foundation, www.BrightFocus.org