Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological illnesses cost Americans about $789 billion in 2014 — a price tag that will go only up as the country’s elderly population doubles by 2050. Yet the Trump administration’s proposal to cut the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $5.8 billion, or 18 percent, will only increase the economic burden of Alzheimer’s in the long run, warns the American Neurological Association (ANA).
The ANA’s study, “The Burden of Neurological Disease in the United States: A Summary Report and Call to Action,” appeared in Annals of Neurology. It found that Alzheimer’s and other dementias made up $243 billion of the total, followed by chronic low back pain ($177 billion) and stroke ($110 billion).
Research beginning in the 1970s to mitigate the effects of cardiovascular disease and cancer has paid off. People live longer lives, yet with longer life expectancies come an increasing risk of dementia, low back pain, stroke, traumatic brain injury, migraine, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, and Parkinson’s disease.
“Neurological research, like cancer, needs its own ‘moonshot’ to focus substantial research investment on the neurological diseases that are impacting the mortality and quality of life of more and more Americans every year,” Clifton L. Gooch, MD, chair of the neurology department at the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine, said in a press release.
Gooch, who led the research on behalf of ANA, referred to the $1.8 billion cancer research funding package authorized by Congress in 2016.
“We hope the findings of this report will serve as a wake-up call to Congress to increase much-needed basic and clinical research funding required to discover treatments which can mitigate, and ultimately cure, the major neurological diseases which have such profound effects in our patients and for the national economy,” he said.
The investigation started in 2012, when the ANA was already concerned about funding for neurology research. Now, with Trump’s massive proposed budget at NIH, the group says it’s more urgent than ever. “As representatives of the scholars working to eradicate these diseases, we feel we must raise our collective voices, armed with the facts,” said ANA President Barbara G. Vickrey, MD, MPH.
But the numbers presented in the report are in the lower spectrum of the “real costs” linked to neurological conditions. In addition, diseases such as depression and chronic pain, which are often caused by a variety of factors, are excluded. “A full accounting of all neurological disorders, would, of course, push cost estimates substantially higher,” authors wrote.
But the report was not only intended to set off alarm bells. It also highlighted the importance of advocacy in making funding of key initiatives a priority.
“Organizations such as the American Neurological Association, the American Academy of Neurology and the Society for Neuroscience, as well as our sub-specialty organizations, and individual neurologists and neuroscientists must work together to coordinate their advocacy efforts more aggressively than ever before,” authors wrote. “The very future of the neurological sciences and the patients we serve is now at stake, and the welfare of generations yet to come hangs upon the success of our efforts.”