(CBS/AP) By 2025, Scientists need to develop an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease, says the U.S. Government. The Obama administration announced today a plan for the government to step in and help find a way to treat and prevent the deadly neurological disease.
The announcement of the nation's first National Alzheimer's Plan is not a moment too soon. An estimated 5.4 million Americans currently have the disease, but research suggests that by 2050, that number may nearly triple to 16 million Americans living with the disease - costing $1 trillion in medical and nursing home expenditures.
The government is setting what it calls an ambitious goal for progress in tackling the disease. The plan doesn't provide details of how to fund the necessary research to meet that target date. Today's treatments only temporarily ease some dementia symptoms, and work to find better ones has been frustratingly slow.
A committee of Alzheimer's experts begins a two-day meeting Tuesday to help advise the government on how to finalize the plan.
Families have been "reminding us of the enormity of our task, perhaps most important the meaningfulness of it," said the committee's chair, Dr. Ron Petersen, an Alzheimer's specialist at the Mayo Clinic.
But hanging over the meeting is the reality of a budget crunch. It's not clear how much money the federal government will be able to devote to Alzheimer's, and states have seen their Alzheimer's budgets cut.
"We're not going to fix this without substantial resources," said David Hoffman of the New York State Department of Health, who oversees that state's Alzheimer's programs. "In New York, we're hanging on by our nails."
Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the, taking more than 83,000 lives this past year.
The national plan is supposed to tackle both the medical and social aspects of dementia, and advocacy groups had urged that it set a deadline for progress.
One of the draft's goals it to improve the timely diagnosis for the disease. A recent report found as many as half of today's Alzheimer's sufferers haven't been formally diagnosed, in part because of stigma and the belief that nothing can be done. Symptomatic treatment aside, a diagnosis lets families plan, and catching the disease earlier would be crucial if scientists ever find ways to slow the disease's progress.
Another goal of the plan is to improve support and training for families so they know what resources are available for patients and what to expect as dementia worsens. A caregiver-training program in New York has shown that families taught how to handle common dementia problems, and given support, are able to keep their loved ones at home for longer. Hoffman said such training programs are far cheaper than nursing homes.
Alzheimer's sufferers gradually lose the ability to do the simplest activities of daily life and can survive that way for a decade or more. A recent study suggests memory loss from aging could start as early as 45,reported.
In meetings around the country last summer and fall, families urged federal health officials to make sure the national plan addresses how to help patients live their last years at home without ruining their caregivers' own health and finances.
According to a study in the Lancet Neurology, simple lifestyle changes may go a long way in staving off Alzheimer's disease. The study found that by reducing risk factors - such as obesity and blood pressure - by 25 percent, it could mean 3 million fewer cases of Alzheimer's worldwide,reported.
Here are 7 ways to reduce your risk for Alzheimer's disease: