YARMOUTH — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins spent Wednesday morning touring the Alzheimer’s unit of Bay Square, an assisted living facility in Yarmouth, where she met a woman who served in the same sorority as her mother. She met another who recently celebrated her 100th birthday. She passed a group doing light calisthenics and another group doing puzzles.
When she was finished, Collins marveled at the individualized level of care offered to Bay Square’s residents.
Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate Special Committee on Aging and co-chair of the Congressional Alzheimer’s Task Force, has pushed for increasing federal spending on Alzheimer’s research to $2 billion in the next five years. She said she believes experts who tell her a cure for the disease is possible but not without well-funded research.
The recent federal spending bill that passed Congress earlier this month included an extra $120 million in funding for Alzheimer’s disease research. Collins said that’s a good start but it’s not nearly enough. Even if her goal of $2 billion is reached, that would still only equal 1 percent of what is spent every year on treating the disease.
“But what an investment it would be,” the senator said Wednesday after her tour, saying big investments in cancer and HIV/AIDS research have paid off.
Alzheimer’s disease, which is marked by slow mental deterioration, has emerged as the defining illness of the Baby Boom generation. An estimated 37,000 Mainers are living with the disease, but that number is expected to grow to more than 50,000 within the next five years. Nationwide, more than 5 million people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
In addition to the disease’s heavy toll on family members and caregivers, it also has become a major economic concern because of the high costs associated with treatment. More money is spent to treat Alzheimer’s than any other disease, including heart disease and cancer.
“Now is the time to make Alzheimer’s a priority in Maine and across the country,” said Laurie Trenholm, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Maine, who joined Collins in Yarmouth on Wednesday.
The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram has been examining concerns of Maine’s rapidly aging population, including Alzheimer’s, in a special investigative series, “The Challenge of Our Age,” which shows that the state isn’t taking good care of its seniors now and isn’t prepared for what’s coming.
Increased funding for research is not likely to have an immediate impact in Maine, but Collins said the state can do more to ensure that adequate housing is available and also to provide more training and respite for family members and caregivers, who often carry the biggest burden.
Also included in the recent spending bill, she said, was $3.3 million to support caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients and another $4 million to train health care professionals on the disease.
Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: