Bravo to Congress, but We Need More Than $1 Billion If We're Going to Cure Alzheimer's

R. Scott Turner, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Memory Disorder Center at Georgetown University Hospital, points
R. Scott Turner, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Memory Disorder Center at Georgetown University Hospital, points to PET scan results that are part of a study on Allheimer's disease at Georgetown University Hospital, on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in Washington. Amyloid plaques are the Alzheimer’s culprit that gets all the attention. Now scientists are beginning to peer into the brains of people considered at high risk of getting Alzheimer’s to see if the disease’s other bad actor, tangle-forming tau, is lurking well before any memory symptoms begin. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This week Congress got something done. Our country's legislators reached across the aisle and passed a landmark bill that will increase the federal funding of Alzheimer's research by $350 million next year.

This increase will bring Alzheimer's funding close to the $1 billion mark, and that's a great step forward. It's also a critical one. Cancer has $5-6 billion in federal funding for research to find a cure. AIDS/HIV has almost $3 billion. Heart disease research is funded at $2 billion. For us to really find a cure for Alzheimer's, we need to reach those levels. We need to devote at least $2 billion annually to develop disease-modifying drugs or find a cure by 2025.

Every 67 seconds someone in the United States gets Alzheimer's. This disease disproportionally affects women, both as those who get it and those who end up as caretakers. In fact, a woman in her early 60s is twice as likely to get Alzheimer's as she is to get breast cancer. That's why we created The Women's Alzheimer's Challenge to emphasize brain research -- particularly women's brains.

My fellow Americans this is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, this is a national economic issue. This disease has already cost taxpayers over $200 billion and it's predicted that by 2050 the total cost of the disease could surpass $1 trillion per year. Today 5 million Americans are dying from this disease and more than 15 million men and women are providing care for them. This is not an issue that's going to go away, in fact, it's only going to get worse. Studies predict that the number of Americans 65 or older suffering from Alzheimer's will reach 16 million by 2050. So we need to invest in medical research now. We need to encourage people to go into neuroscience. We need to offer support for caregivers. We need to make finding a cure for Alzheimer's a national priority.

If we can put a man on the moon, we can definitely do the research on the brain that I believe will eventually lead us to a cure for Alzheimer's... and/or other neurological diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's, or depression along the way. Mental health issues are plaguing -- and taking -- American lives. Medical research will give us a clue as to what is going on in people's brains.

Everyone is talking about being afraid of terrorism and ISIS; I get that, they're scary. You know what else is scary? Losing your mind to a silent killer that lives in your brain undetected for 20 years. That's a reality for millions of American families.

So, bravo to Congress for increasing research funding. We end this year with an example of conscious collaboration between Republicans and Democrats. People often say nothing gets done in Washington, but this time that's not true. Something big just got done.

We have one more hurdle to go. This was a victory on Capitol Hill, and now the bill will head to President Obama's desk for a signature next week -- something I am optimistic will happen. If you want it happen too, you should let him know.

But as we all know, 2016 is an election year and soon there will be a brand new face in the Oval Office. Heading into Iowa, I challenge anyone and everyone running for President to come up with a plan to fund Alzheimer's research, come up with a plan for giving support to caregivers, give a speech about what's really happening to people on Main Street and all across America.

It's time for those who want to hold the top job in Washington to make finding a cure for Alzheimer's a national priority. Candidates: Congress has led the way, now the ball is in your court.

Maria Shriver is a mother of four, a Peabody- and Emmy Award-winning journalist and producer, a six-time New York Times bestselling author, and one of the nation's leading Alzheimer's advocates and the founder of The Women's Alzheimer's Challenge. Seven months ago she challenged Presidential candidates to make funding for Alzheimer's a priority and she's once again stressing that challenge. Shriver was California's first lady from 2003 to 2010, and during that time she spearheaded what became the nation's premier forum for women, The Women's Conference. Shriver's work is driven by her belief that all of us have the ability to be Architects of Change -- "Conscious Idealists" in pursuit of the common good who guide us out beyond into the Open Field of life.