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Susan Collins

The Battle Against Alzheimer's: A Progress Report
By Senator Susan Collins
May 19, 2008 - 10:35:34 AM

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Senator Susan Collins represents the state of Maine in the United States Senate.
The life of Karen Stram of Dresden changed dramatically a decade ago when her husband, Bob, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. Since that initial devastating diagnosis, Karen has become an outspoken advocate for expanded funding and research to assist her husband and the millions of Americans and their families who live with this terrible disease.

While in Washington recently, Karen Stram attended a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, of which I am a member. Our Committee received an update on where we stand in the battle against Alzheimer's Disease. Among those who testified were former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who shared emotional and personal stories of her family's private battles with this disease, which has struck her beloved husband. Both Speaker Gingrich and Justice O'Connor are also members of the Alzheimer's Study Group. As Senate co-chair of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer's Disease, I was pleased to announce the formation of this independent, non-partisan group last year. The purpose of this task force is to assess the adequacy of the country's current efforts to combat Alzheimer's and recommend strategies to accelerate progress toward defeating this terrible disease.

Alzheimer's takes a tremendous personal and economic toll on both the individual and the family. As someone whose family has experienced the pain of Alzheimer's many times, I know that there is no more helpless feeling than to watch the progression of this dreadful disease. It is an agonizing experience to look into the eyes of a loved one only to receive a confused look in return.

An estimated 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease - including more than 25,000 people in Maine -- more than double the number in 1980. Moreover, Alzheimer's costs the United States nearly $150 billion a year, primarily in nursing home and other long-term care costs. This figure will increase exponentially as the baby boom generation ages. As baby boomers move into the years of highest risk for Alzheimer's disease, a strong and sustained research effort is our best tool to slow the progression and prevent the onset of this heart-breaking disease.

Our investments in Alzheimer's research have begun to pay dividends. Effective treatments are tantalizingly within our grasp. Moreover, if scientists can find a way to delay the onset of this devastating disease for even five years, our nation will save more than $60 billion every year in Medicare and Medicaid costs, and an incalculable amount in human suffering.

If we are to keep up the momentum we have established, however, we must increase our investment in Alzheimer's disease research. We have made tremendous progress, but this is no time to take our foot off the accelerator. That is why I am pleased to be an original cosponsor of the bipartisan "Alzheimer's Breakthrough Act" to double the authorization levels for Alzheimer's research at the National Institutes of Health.

In addition to increasing funding for research, we must also do more to support Alzheimer's patients and their families. That is why I am an original cosponsor of the "Alzheimer's Family Assistance Act," which will provide a tax credit of up to $3,000 to help families meet the costs of caring for a loved one with a long-term, chronic disease like Alzheimer's. The legislation will also encourage more Americans to plan for their future long-term care needs by providing a tax deduction to help them purchase long-term care insurance.

It was encouraging to see Karen Stram at this hearing in Washington, and for her to see how her dedicated advocacy is helping to affect change. I know that her continued efforts, like those of so many others, will help us identify new strategies that will move us forward in our battle against this terrible disease.

Senator Collins is pictured with North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.


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