Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Alzheimer's Disease: "I say the cure will come as quickly as the American people want it to come.”

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. 


  1. Yes Jim, we could win the fight against Alzheimer's sooner than later. But our Politicians can only think as far ahead as the next November their names appear on the ballot. It’s the same with “Energy Independence” which has been going on since 1972. And we are still paying the fiddlers for it! :-(
    There are no profiles in courage anymore, ....... except maybe Chris Christie. I guess we’ll have to wait awhile for someone to put the train back on its tracks.

    Thanks Jim for putting Alzheimer’s at the forefront of your ‘pen’. Maybe the more we hear & read about it, the more focused the Hill People will become.
    I can dream, can’t I?

  2. Jim,

    The cost of unpaid caregivers in Texas equates to a cost of $11,168,705,965 in 2009 according to a report from the Alzheimer's Disease Facts & Figures Report, 2010. This disease has the potential to overwhelm public and private health care and undermine the economic health of the United States. If ever there was one disease to cure, this is it.

    Thanks for making this topic a priority.

  3. You have such wonderful thoughts. Such positive thinking you have. People should keep positivity.

  4. "The cure will come as quickly as the American people want it to come." Not sure it is this simple. There are so many worthy competing interests in society that need resources. Even within the medical universe, there are so many causes and constituencies that feel they deserve a higher priority. We can't fund all of them. What about cancer, heart disease and stroke? Arthritis? Toxic and virulent infections? Artifical organs? Outside of the medial arena, society is deluged with great and growing needs.

  5. Wow.. Nice information, I like this thought and Its really makes me happy. Its really very positive for me. Thanks for sharing .

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