Opinion: Alzheimer's cure must be pursued

A woman, suffering from Alzheimer's desease, holds the

A woman, suffering from Alzheimer's desease, holds the hand of a relative in a retirement home in this file photo. (March 18, 2011) (Credit: Getty Images)

There are about 5 million people with Alzheimer's disease nationally and more than 300,000 of them in New York, according to the Alzheimer's Association and state Department of Health, respectively.

The devastating disease -- which has no effective means of prevention or cure -- costs the country more than $200 billion a year, and some New York lawmakers expect the costs to exceed $1 trillion nationally by 2050.

The statistics have a face in my house. My wife, Clare, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at age 63 in 2009. By then, she had dealt with symptoms for three years -- repeatedly asking me the same questions, getting lost while driving locally and no longer enjoying her hobbies. She grew increasingly dependent on me.

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By this past spring, Clare needed 24/7 supervision; she needed my assistance each morning to get washed and dressed, and each evening to get ready for bed. She could not prepare meals or attend to her hygiene. She was getting more confused with each passing week, and even supervising her daily morning and evening medication was becoming difficult. As her caregiver, I could no longer provide the quality of care she needed, nor could I get the respite I needed.

I placed Clare in an assisted-living facility in September, and I visit her daily. She is in a safe and secure environment.

Clare and I are lucky because we purchased long-term health care insurance when we retired. Many assisted-living facilities on Long Island charge at least $200 per day to care for people with Alzheimer's. States risk going broke due to Medicaid costs for those with Alzheimer's in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes -- unless we find a way to effectively prevent or cure the disease.

We cannot depend upon the National Institutes of Health for sufficient research funding to find a cure. It funds Alzheimer's research at $500 million a year compared with $6 billion for cancer research.

State Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) and U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) would like to increase federal funding, but they know we can't count on it. Their solution: a billion-dollar state bonding initiative similar to those that have made California the nation's center for stem-cell research and Texas a center for cancer research.

Israel and Lavine support authorizing a $3-billion bond issue, spread over 20 to 30 years. That can make New York our nation's center for Alzheimer's research and innovation -- at a cost to taxpayers, Israel estimates, of $7 to $8 a year.

New York has some of the major ingredients to make an Alzheimer's bonding initiative a success. Three of the country's 29 Alzheimer's Disease Research Centers are in New York City. That concentration is coupled with proximity to other well-regarded research facilities, including Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Clinical trials with Alzheimer's patients are under way at the Feinstein Institute of North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital. Imagine the synergy of having New York's world-class institutions working on Alzheimer's research with sufficient funding.

A bonding initiative also would provide for more programs to support those dealing with the disease, and their caregivers. Grants to local nonprofits would provide support groups and day-care programs, and more training for those who work with patients.

Lavine, whose proposal merits serious consideration, hopes to move the bill forward when the State Legislature reconvenes this month. Democrats and Republicans in Albany should support the legislation, so that a new day may someday dawn for Alzheimer's sufferers and their families.

Allan S. Vann is a retired public school principal and a caregiver to his wife, Clare, a retired high school teacher.

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