Scientists told the Senate Special Committee on Aging earlier this week that there many promising Alzheimer’s disease detection and treatment research projects under way right now.
Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, said increased research budgets and new gene sequencing technology are helping researchers learn more about how human genetics — and, possibly, microbes — lead to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
“Thanks to the efforts of an expanding community of scientists, we have important progress to report,” Hodes told the committee, in a written version of his testimony. “Our hope for a cure has never been stronger.”
The Dementia Problem
About 5.8 million U.S. residents have Alzheimer’s disease, and coping with the effects of dementia cost the Medicare and Medicaid programs about $195 billion per year, according to an opening statement presented by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the chairman of the special committee.
“If we continue along this trajectory, Alzheimer’s is projected to claim the minds of nearly 14 million Americans, and surpass $1 trillion in costs by 2050,” Collins said.
A biotech company, Biogen Inc., recently canceled two major Alzheimer’s drug development projects, saying drugs that were supposed to remove beta amyloid, or waxy buildup, from the brain had no clear effect on Alzheimer’s disease.
Some people in the Alzheimer’s community have argued that the country should spend less on efforts to prevent or cure dementia, and more on trying to support the people who already have dementia, in part because many drug development projects aimed at beta amyloid, and some at a related substance, tau protein, have failed.
Other policymakers are still hoping that scientists will find ways to reduce the number of people affected by dementia.
Why This Matters to Agents and Advisors
A successful effort to reduce the impact of Alzheimer’s could lead to a sudden, dramatic improvement in the finances of long-term care insurance issuers, ease the process of planning for all sorts of long-term care risk, and sharply increase the odds that even people who will still need long-term care will be able to get that care in their own homes, without 24-hour supervision.
For the typical retirement planning client, controlling the Alzheimer’s threat might be the equivalent of putting about $50,000 in cash in the client’s asset total, and eliminating exposure to a condition that, in a worst-case scenario, without client access to long-term care insurance or Medicaid nursing home benefits, could eat about $1 million in cash, or more.
(Related: The Largest Individual LTCI Claim of 2018)
The BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act
Collins said the new BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act of 2018, which was signed into law Dec. 31, will help strengthen public health program support for people with dementia, and also increase dementia research funding by $425 million per year, to about $2 billion per year.
“While amyloid remains an important part of ongoing research, and I remain hopeful that new trials starting earlier in the disease process will produce better news, the record funding that we have provided will allow our medical researchers to pursue other promising approaches,” Collins said.
The Dementia Research Pipeline
Here are four hot areas of dementia research that Hodes and other witnesses discussed at the Alzheimer’s research hearing.
1. Alzheimer’s Blood Tests
One challenge for researchers, and care providers, is that detecting the physical presence of Alzheimer’s disease in the body has been difficult.