Even if the Julianne Moore movie “Still Alice” doesn't become a box office blockbuster along the lines of, say, “Guardians of the Galaxy” or the latest installment of “The Hunger Games” — and, let's face it, there's no chance in heck it will — I'm hoping it proves a financial windfall in another, critical way.
The film — a moving depiction of how Alzheimer's disease affects an individual and those who love her — could raise awareness of just how vulnerable millions of us are. Moore's Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination should help.
And with that exposure, maybe more Americans will become vocal advocates for increased funding for research on the disease.
This is not a bleeding heart issue. It's a fiscal imperative. Finding effective treatments, if not a cure, could save the United States billions of dollars every year.
Caring for the nation's Alzheimer's patients now costs almost $215 billion annually. In just five years, that figure will reach $276 billion; in 10, it will hit $363 billion; and by 2030, it will be $486 billion. As T.R. Reid points out in an excellent article in the latest online "AARP Bulletin," caring for people with the disease will cost Medicare and Medicaid $150 billion in the current fiscal year, with the rest of the costs falling mostly on patients and families.
In a 2012 blog, I noted that President Obama had set a target date of 2025 for medical scientists to come up with Alzheimer's treatments that work. To that end, Congress increased research funding by hundreds of millions of dollars, but, as Reid notes, that total still falls short of the $2 billion experts say is needed over the next decade to meet the president's prevention and treatment goals.
Although we now spend more to care for patients with Alzheimer's than those with cancer or heart disease, research funding is far higher for those ailments. The federal government has committed $5.4 billion to cancer research this year, about $1.2 billion to heart disease and $3 billion to HIV/AIDS — and only around $566 million to Alzheimer's. One reason: cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDs all have very vocal, politically sophisticated advocates for funding, as well as survivors who can talk about their ordeal and touch the public's heart. Nobody who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's survives.
I hope more of us step up and speak out for additional federal research money for Alzheimer's. It's necessary for the 5 million Americans now diagnosed with the disease, and the millions among us who will be diagnosed in the years to come. And it's necessary for our nation.