Byline: Dennis C. Revell, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
"That's the worst part of this disease. There's nobody to exchange memories with." (Nancy Reagan, Sept. 25, "60 Minutes II.")
Alzheimer's disease doesn't make special arrangements for anyone, even for the leader of the free world. In tragic irony, 20 years ago this week President Ronald Reagan launched a national campaign against Alzheimer's disease. In a historic White House ceremony, he drew national attention to Alzheimer's and defined it as a major health menace. He proclaimed November National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, warning the American people of "the emotional, financial and social consequences of Alzheimer's disease." With vision and leadership, he argued for research as "the only hope for victims and families."
The brain is a miracle when it works, and a mystery when it fails. One of the most haunting, puzzling, and soon to be most costly of the brain's failures is Alzheimer's - a degenerative, progressive, and terminal brain disorder.
Most people think of Alzheimer's strictly as memory loss. It is much more, although memory loss alone would be scary enough. Memories are the records of our lives - the essential stuff of our identities and personalities - the very essence of what we share with those we love.
On Nov. 5, 1994, Ronald Reagan wrote a courageous letter to the American people about his own diagnosis of Alzheimer's, and his 1982 presidential campaign against the disease became his family's personal struggle.
We have made giant strides toward fulfilling his vision, and now this Congress and President Bush have the opportunity to finish the battle he began. Congress has steadily invested public funds in Alzheimer's research over the past 20 years and the Alzheimer's Association has added millions in private funds.
That investment in research is now paying off. Science is at the point where effective treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's is within reach. The research infrastructure is in place; the paths for further investigation are clear. The missing ingredient is money. A $1 billion federal investment now will pay big dividends in the future.
When Ronald Reagan sounded his battle cry against Alzheimer's, an estimated 2 million people were suffering from this awful disease. Today, the number has grown to more than 4 million, with an additional 19 million family members suffering the emotional and financial impact - 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Unfortunately, over the next 50 years, as many as 14 million baby boomers will be the next large pool of victims, unless we find ways to further slow down or stop the changes in their brains that might already be taking place.
The threat to so many American families should be enough to urge us to action, but the economic impact of the disease drives us as well. In just 10 years, the annual cost of Alzheimer's disease to Medicare and Medicaid will rise from $50 billion to …