This year, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia cost the nation $259 billion. That number is expected to increase to $1.1 trillion by 2050. In Wisconsin, the state spent $687 million for Alzheimer’s care — despite 193,000 caregivers going unpaid.
Just this month, Bill Gates dedicated $50 million to find a cure.
In comparison, the $50,000 allocated each year of the two-year state budget may seem meager. But for legislators — and researchers — the state support has a broader meaning.
“While it may seem like a small amount, I think [the funding is] a positive symbol and can be of help,” Rohrkaste said. “You never know when one $50,000 grant leads to another $50,000 grant and maybe that will then put [researchers] over the hump to either improve diagnosis or eventually create a cure.”
The $50,000 dollar amount came from a bill Hesselbein proposed during her time on the task force. A researcher at UW’s Alzheimer's Disease Research Center spoke with Hesselbein after $50,000 in research funding was cut as part of Walker’s 2015 budget.
The new influx of money this budget will help researchers leverage the federal funds, which could bring hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to Hesselbein.
In the meantime, the money will go toward studying the blood of people who have Alzheimer’s. Researchers believe there is something in the blood platelets that might help them determine who’s getting Alzheimer’s and why. Scientists also are examining indicators that can help doctors catch the disease early.
Keeping people with dementia active is one suggested way to slow down cognitive decline and improve quality of life, according to Rohrkaste.
At UW-Madison, students are doing just that. Members of Advocates for Alzheimer’s, a campus organization, volunteer their Saturdays working with residents with dementia at the Capitol Lakes Retirement home.
For some of the older residents with family who live far away, these students are the only visitors they’ll have for months.
“That’s the highlight of [resident’s] week,” said Laura Lettenberger, president of Advocates for Alzheimer’s. “Workers always say afterward how the residents are in such a better mood.”
Lettenberger got involved with the Wisconsin chapter of the national Alzheimer’s Association in high school. Lettenberger has since met with House Speaker Paul Ryan four times to discuss Alzheimer’s related issues.
Most recently, she and Ryan talked about increasing funding for caregivers. Ryan is personally affected by Alzheimer’s and, along with his mother, acted as one of his grandmother’s caregivers.
There’s a critical lack of funding for people caring for those with Alzheimer’s. The stress associated with providing care often results in health problems for the caregiver. For Lettenberger, her grandfather had a heart attack from the stress of caring for her grandmother, who had early onset Alzheimer’s.
To help lessen the load caregivers carry, the state also approved a million dollars for respite care.
Although state lawmakers have committed increasing resources to supporting caregivers, they remain optimistic that a cure could be found in the near future to render those efforts moot.
“With stuff we learned from the task force it wouldn’t surprise me if something from Wisconsin could be popping on it,” Hesselbein said. “With $50,000 we could be on the map.”