Congress may have adjourned to campaign, and The White House may be “closed” as President Obama campaigns for fellow Democrats, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t important political developments Inside the Beltway. One such event took place just steps from the Capitol late last week when a new political campaign was launched to address the nation’s Alzheimer’s crisis, set to explode in coming years as we live longer. Senators Collins (R-Maine) and Klobuchar (D-Minn) joined forces with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and others to announce the formation of US Against Alzheimer’s. Their premise: the great triumph of longevity – adding decades to life in the 20th century–will be devastated by Alzheimer’s as it hits 1 in 3 over 65 and 1 in 2 over 85. This is a political issue of significant consequence because of its growing impact on the national debt and economic sustainability.
The Alzheimer’s initiative underscored the budget busting impact of the awful disease: “Over the next 10 years, $2 trillion will be spent caring for those with Alzheimer’s, while the National Institute of Health will invest only $5 billion in research.” As the 19th Century British historian Samuel Johnson has said of hanging, “It tends to concentrate the mind.”
The good news is that we will continue to extend longevity. The reality is that the only way we Americans will be able to afford it is if we take on Alzheimer’s in the 21st Century as a national campaign – think President Kennedy’s Space Race. But, how does the short term politician’s election cycle track with a longer term approach that would treat today’s spending as an investment for tomorrow’s cure? US Against Alzheimer’s is betting the first step is the kind of political commitment that must come from both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. And while the data may not be new, the political action is.
Michael W Hodin is Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations and Executive Director, Global Coalition on Aging