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Alzheimer's Disease Research Summit

May 15, 2012
Bethesda, MD

It’s wonderful to be here at NIH, site of so many of the world’s medical breakthroughs. And the site of historic discoveries that have added significantly to the quality and length of our lives. Thanks in large part to that work, we can better manage disease, and have seen the average life span jump from 47 years to 78 in just over a century. 

But as we live longer we face the significant health challenges that come with age.  One of the biggest is Alzheimer’s disease.

Today, as many as 5.1 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. As the baby boomers march past age 65, the number of people with Alzheimer’s could more than double in just a few decades.

What may begin with someone struggling everyday to remember appointments or pay the bills, may eventually lead to losing independence completely.

As the disease slowly takes away a loved one, families face the knowledge that each day may be harder than the last.  Caregivers who give so much often find themselves feeling tired, angry, lost, hopeless or, some tell us, even embarrassed.

And beyond costs to the health and well-being of families, Alzheimer’s can take an enormous financial toll, sometimes even costing families their life’s savings. Many caregivers may miss work or quit their jobs entirely to take care of a loved one, with major consequences for a family – and for our economy, too.

As our understanding of the disease has evolved, we have responded with the best science and support services we’ve had to offer.  We’ve made considerable progress, but much more needs to be done. And it needs to be done now because people with Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones need help now.

Research has provided valuable new insights into the disease, particularly in just the last couple of years. Many of you in this room, and others around the world, have been hard at work and have made major contributions to our understanding of the disease.

But you know better than anyone that breakthroughs leading to treatments have been slow in coming. We’ve yet to harness the right formula for drug development. And clinical trial results have been disappointing. We’ve yet to find effective treatments or proven ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

And as you all know, this isn’t just about those who have the disease. Caregivers and families need support too.

With a general lack of understanding about Alzheimer’s among the public, many may go it alone, unaware of the resources they can turn to.  Health care professionals with limited time in office visits may not be able to address dementia in the most effective way either.

We needed to take action.  And that’s why last year President Obama signed the bipartisan National Alzheimer’s Project Act.

The goal of the law is to give us the kind of clear national focus and attention on Alzheimer’s that we’ve given other diseases.

One of the law’s most important mandates is the creation of a national strategy to guide our fight against Alzheimer’s for years to come.

Over the last 7 months we’ve released drafts of this strategy and collected and incorporated valuable input and comments from leaders and advocates – many of them in this room – and from the general public.

And today we’re releasing the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease - a roadmap that will help us meet our goal to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

The plan addresses every aspect of what it is to confront Alzheimer’s disease.

For example, it outlines ways we can improve the quality of care for people with Alzheimer’s through initiatives like workforce training and education for health care providers. 

It gives us strategies to expand support for people with Alzheimer’s and caregivers, including traditionally underserved communities.

And the plan provides concrete actions we can take to collect better data and establish a clearer picture of the disease's impact on patients, their families and the health care system.

It also charts out a national campaign to increase public awareness. Our goal is to give everyone a place to find the help they need – whether it’s someone with the disease, someone who thinks her mother might have it, or a caregiver looking for information on assisted living.

Finally, the plan gives us a blueprint for building on our research efforts, so that we can win our battle with Alzheimer’s. This summit is one of the first action items in the Plan, and it is a great start. From here, we will begin to lay out research priorities and find better ways to coordinate, so that we make the most of our efforts.  That means expanding our work on prevention and treatment.  It means getting the most promising drugs from discovery into clinical trials.  And it means getting best practices for treating the disease from the research journals into the exam rooms as soon as possible.

This plan gives us a path forward. E very year we’re going to update it.  We’re going to make sure it reflects the latest science and breakthroughs. And we’re going to reevaluate, refocus when needed, and make sure we’re getting results.

This is a true national plan. It’s based on a strong partnership with every part of the Alzheimer’s community. Your input and participation shaped every part of it. And we won’t be able to carry it out without you.

Now, when you provided that input, one of your key messages was that we couldn’t wait until the strategy became final to start taking these actions.

That’s why this February President Obama made his historic $156 million commitment to combat Alzheimer’s disease.

As part of this commitment, we immediately identified $50 million within NIH for additional research on effective treatments, delay of disease progression, and ultimately, even prevention of Alzheimer’s altogether.  Today, those funds are already being put to work on exciting new research. 

One clinical trial is testing a nasal spray that may hold off memory loss.  Another is examining how certain antibodies might prevent cognitive decline in people who are at high risk for Alzheimer’s. Dr. Collins is going to tell you more about these exciting trials that this funding has made possible. And we’ve proposed another $80 million in Alzheimer’s research funding for next year’s budget.

We also heard from you that we needed more than just research dollars.  We needed education and outreach and additional caregiver supports. So the remaining $26 million over the next two years is going to those efforts where we know they’ll make a big difference.

That starts with immediate additional support for caregivers through improved services at the local level and new sources for help and information.

Today, thanks to the President’s commitment, we’re launching a targeted awareness campaign to help people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers learn about resources that can help them manage the disease.  We have the first spot to show you today.

This ad is just the beginning of a national campaign beginning this summer.  It will include TV, radio, outdoor and on-line advertising – all designed to raise awareness and provide people in need with information on Alzheimer’s, links to local community services, and opportunities to participate in clinical trials.  

And people will be directed to Alzheimers.gov, a new site we’re launching today, to provide a one-stop shop for people who want or need to learn more about the disease.

This is the kind of site that caregivers have told us can do a lot of good.

One of the stories featured on the site is Charles Zimmerman’s.  Charlie is with us today and you’ll see his video shortly.

In his video, Charlie said, “If you’re going to understand what your partner, or your mother or your dad’s going through, you need to understand what the disease is.”

Alzheimers.gov will give families the tools to do just that.

But in particular we also heard the input that we needed more information for health care providers.

That’s why this summer, as part of our immediate commitment, we’re sending additional funds to Geriatric Education Centers around the country to develop curricula and free training on Alzheimer’s and dementia for health professionals.  The centers will put this information in the hands of professional organizations and accreditation bodies that can spread it quickly to providers.  And our new website will carry videos and fact sheets that providers can easily access. These resources will help providers recognize the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and improve the care that people with the disease receive.

A short time ago, the fight against Alzheimer’s lacked a national focus and a consistent, coordinated partnership with the nation’s Alzheimer’s community.

Today, we’ve made an historic investment of funds, a 15-year commitment to  prevention and treatment, and we’re building partnerships among government, researchers, advocates, providers and the public that will fully bring Alzheimer’s into the national conscience.

These actions are the cornerstones of an ambitious and aggressive agenda to improve the lives of people living with Alzheimer’s disease and their families.

We’re going to continue to work with you towards the day when Alzheimer’s joins the list of diseases we read about in history books.  When the suffering it has caused becomes part of our past.  When it becomes another disease that hard work and strong partnership beats for good.

Thank you.