May 17, 2011

'Penny Wise, Pound Foolish'

Out of each dollar appropriated to the National Institute of Health (NIH), only 3.6 cents goes toward supporting the work of the National Institute on Aging (NIA), one of the 27 institutes and centers of the NIH and the lead institute on Alzheimer's disease research...
Alzheimer's Reading Room

As the nation prepares for a "silver tsunami," a new report released today by the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA) highlights inadequate funding by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) for research of aging-related illnesses and issues a call for the needed investments aimed at preventing, treating or curing chronic diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, that mostly affect older Americans.

The report entitled, "Penny Wise, Pound Foolish: Fairness and Funding at the National Institute on Aging," sheds light on this shortfall as Americans in general are anxious about healthcare concerns and costs and as the nation's at-risk older population is booming—in a silver tsunami fueled by aging baby boomers and a longevity revolution. The number of Americans aged 65 and older will double to more than 88.5 million by 2050.

"In stark contrast to the rapidly-rising costs of healthcare for the aging, we as a nation are making a miniscule—and declining—investment in the prevention, treatment or cure of aging conditions," the report said. "Simply put, our nation does not have the luxury of time to address the health research needs of this population."

Susan Peschin, AFA's vice president of public policy and the report's author, explained, "Increased investment in understanding, preventing, treating or curing chronic diseases of the aging, such as Alzheimer's disease, is perhaps the single most effective strategy in reducing national spending on healthcare and extending healthy life. We cannot afford to wait until it's too late to correct this widening gap."

The report reiterates that chronic disease associated with aging accounts for more than 75 percent of Medicare and other federal health expenditures.

And yet, out of each dollar appropriated to the National Institute of Health (NIH), only 3.6 cents goes toward supporting the work of the NIA, one of the 27 institutes and centers of the NIH and the lead institute on Alzheimer's disease research. Between fiscal years 2003 and 2010, scientists saw a series of nominal increases and cuts that amounted to a 14.7 percent reduction in constant dollars for the NIA.

"As the incidence of Alzheimer's disease reaches crisis proportion, it is essential that researchers continue to work towards a breakthrough with this disease," said Eric J. Hall, AFA's president and CEO. "The costs of not supporting Alzheimer's disease research will pose even more of a tremendous burden to families, businesses and government. Moreover, lives are depending on this type of investment."

Alzheimer's disease, which results in loss of memory and other intellectual functions, is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

AFA and 20 partnering organizations are seeking a minimum $1.4 billion, an increase of $300 million, in the fiscal year 2012 NIH budget for the NIA—a funding level that would be consistent with comparable federal research investments initiatives at the NIH and, they say, "the minimum essential to sustain the research needed to make progress in attacking the chronic diseases that are driving massive increases in our national healthcare cost."

In the area of Alzheimer's disease, research is estimated to be only $469 million at NIH alone; $332.4 million of the NIA's $1.1 billion budget (30 percent) went to Alzheimer's disease research in 2009.

One of the major downfalls of reduced NIA funding is the loss of a generation or more of promising researchers in aging and Alzheimer's disease, according to the report.

It cites the November 11, 2010 issue of Nature in which Richard Hodes, M.D., director of the NIA, said, "If we are less able to fund research—or are perceived to be less able—that will actually drive young and emerging investigators to fields other than aging. That would be a catastrophe at a time when such research is critically important."

In contrast, the report cites evidence from past medical research related to other illnesses, which have led to breakthroughs with a profound impact on not only reducing mortality and morbidity, but on cutting healthcare costs. The cost-effectiveness of the polio vaccine since 1955 in the United States is estimated at $180 billion, and the $10 billion invested in basic research in HIV/AIDS between 1985 and 1995 saved $1.4 trillion in healthcare costs, for example.

The Alzheimer's Foundation of America, based in New York, is a national nonprofit organization that unites more than 1,600 member organizations nationwide with the goal of providing optimal care and services to individuals confronting dementia, and to their caregivers and families. Its services include counseling by licensed social workers via a toll-free hot line and Skype, educational materials, a free quarterly magazine for caregivers, and professional training. For more information about AFA, call toll-free 866-AFA-8484 or visit

SOURCE Alzheimer's Foundation of America

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room