Making progress with Alzheimer’s treatments should be our top priority

Encouraging developments are happening in research, but will Medicare keep up?

Ray Burow avatar

by Ray Burow |

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Note: This story was updated May 31, 2023, to correct the long-term cost for people living with dementia is expected to reach $345 billion this year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, not $345 million.

When I think about the vast number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease, it can be disheartening.

Consider, for example, that in 2020, the United States had 55.7 million adults ages 65 and older. Most people with Alzheimer’s disease are 65 and older, and about 6 million adults in the U.S. currently have the disease, which is about 10% of the adults in that age category. Sadly, by 205o, the number of Americans diagnosed with the most common form of dementia is expected to reach 13 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

However, researchers are making great strides, which gives people living with the disease, along with their caregivers, a reason to hope.

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Delivering hope to Alzheimer’s patients

Twenty years ago, when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we leveraged all that was available to help her live the best possible life. Back then, there were fewer answers to how and why the disease occurred. Over time, she lost more and more ground, and the disease, which always wins, took her away from us.

I sometimes ponder how research for a cure has advanced since my mother was diagnosed, and how treatments to slow the disease’s progression have been developed. If my mother were alive today, staving off symptoms and rapid cognitive loss may have been possible.

According to a May 12 Alzheimer’s News Today story, top-line data from a Phase 3 clinical trial showed that the investigational immunotherapy donanemab “significantly slowed the decline of cognitive and functional abilities in people with early Alzheimer’s disease.” Donanemab’s developer, Eli Lily, hopes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve the treatment in coming months.

To give an indication of how encouraging this news may be, the Alzheimer’s Association’s chief science officer, Maria C. Carrillo, noted, “These are the strongest phase 3 data for an Alzheimer’s treatment to date.”

Hope deferred

As the Alzheimer’s News Today story points out, though, while the FDA may eventually authorize donanemab (after having rejected an application for its accelerated approval earlier this year), Medicare “has adopted a policy that narrowly provides coverage for amyloid-targeting therapies for people in clinical trials.” The result, the story adds, is that the decision “has been met with outrage in the Alzheimer’s community and advocates are looking at how this could affect donanemab, if it’s approved.”

This is upsetting, given that the disease continues to progress with each passing day, week, and month. The longer the federal government drags its proverbial feet on covering therapies for Alzheimer’s, the more the disease will progress beyond the reach of medications for many patients, in my opinion.

Pardon my French, but this drives me nuts. If you’re a caregiver or have been diagnosed with dementia, it likely makes you angry, too.

The cost

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the health and long-term cost for people living with dementia is expected to reach $345 billion this year. Wouldn’t it make sense for Medicare to cover medications to treat people now? To me, it’s an investment in the country, especially for those who are diagnosed early.

If my mother were alive today and in the early stages of the disease, our family would do everything possible to see that she received treatment. But that would be nearly impossible without insurance or without Medicare covering the costs.

Hope renewed

There is something you can do, though: You can sign this petition to President Joe Biden requesting that his administration cover FDA-approved Alzheimer’s treatments. As it notes, “Medicare covers all FDA-approved drugs, except those for Alzheimer’s.” And that needs to change.

Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


Markku Kurkinen avatar

Markku Kurkinen

The cost of people living with dementia in long-term care facilities "is expected to reach $345 million this year." in the US. Correct that to $345 billion. `In addition to 18 billion hours of unpaid home care.

5 year delay in dementia onset would save 50% of care cost, that is $0.5 billion a day that could be used for dementia research and prevention studies.

Brad Dell avatar

Brad Dell

Thank you for pointing out the error about $345 billion, Markku! We will make the correction.

David Hudgins avatar

David Hudgins

I too am frustrated at pace of studies, recognition of successes, approval of only further studies, etc. Meanwhile, Rome burns !!

Take the same approaches we did to Covid, speed up all processes, eliminate bottlenecks, build fires under bureaucrats, government funding of accelerated developments in exchange for lower costs.

One study I'm aware of using generic drug Valacyclovir to combat amyloid buildup in those with HS-1(over 60% of population) has been delayed for years. Why ?, no financial incentive for new drugs......


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