Writing for the Penn Gazette, the alumni publication of the University of Pennsylvania, Samuel Hughes takes a close look at the Ivy League school's efforts against Alzeheimer's Disease.
One of the Penn experts quoted is Dr. John Trojanowski, the William Paul Measey-Truman G. Schnabel Jr. Professor of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, who notes that the annual cost of Alzheimer’s care in the US now at about $172 billion. Globally, the cost is about $604 billion, and by 2050, that number could rise as high as $3 trillion, Trojanowski says. A five-year delay could cut that number to around $1.5 trillion. “Half of $3 trillion is certainly a lot of money,” he adds. “But it’s far less than $3 trillion.”
The whole article is fascinating and full of detail, but in these paragraphs, Hughes lays out both the enormous cost and the enormous potential. We could have a cure, if we really wanted one, says Trojanowski:
Thirty years ago the late, great medical essayist Lewis Thomas called Alzheimer’s “the disease of the century.” While AIDS may have justifiably stolen the spotlight in the 20th century, the demographics and staggering costs associated with Alzheimer’s make it well-positioned to reclaim the title in the 21st.
“When Alzheimer described Alzheimer’s disease in 1906, life expectancy was 48, and the top 10 or 20 causes of death were infectious diseases,” points out Trojanowski. “A hundred years later, people are living to an average age of 78 in developed countries. And now Alzheimer’s, which was ignored, has become an epidemic. Alzheimer’s has replaced diabetes as the sixth leading cause of death in developed countries.
“The current [global] cost of Alzheimer’s disease is $604 billion,” he adds. “If those costs were the economic output of a country, then the cost of Alzheimer’s care would mean that Alzheimer’s is between Turkey and Indonesia as the 17th-largest economy in the world. If it were a company, it would be the largest company in the world, larger than Walmart and Exxon Mobil. It’s affecting China, Southeast Asia, Australia, Indonesia. So it is a global problem. A global epidemic—with horrendous costs.
“We really owe it to ourselves and future generations to create a world without Alzheimer’s disease,” he adds. “And I think we can. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have said that. We didn’t know enough. When asked at support groups by families that had an Alzheimer’s patient, I would almost tearfully have to say, ‘I have no idea.’ As a physician, to admit that there was nothing that you could do—and that you had no idea when something could be done—was emotionally difficult. And now it’s changed so dramatically that I say the cure will come as quickly as the American people want it to come.”
Words worth repeating: "The cure will come as quickly as the American people want it to come."
One of the arguments of of this blog is that Serious Medicine does, in fact, need a strategy. And strategy, of course, means aligning means and ends. That is, can we mobilize what we have to achieve our goals? It's not easy, of course, but the greater the stakes, the greater the reward for success, and the greater the cost for failure. And right now, we are losing the war on Alzheimer's. But, as Dr. Trojanowski says, we don't have to lose. We could win this fight against AD if we wanted to.