A new report involving U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., calls Alzheimer's disease "one of the leading public health challenges we face in the 21st century."
"A diagnosis is a death sentence," the report says.
The Senate Special Committee on Aging recently released the 97-page report, which explored how Australia, France, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States diagnose and treat Alzheimer's disease. Corker is the panel's ranking Republican member.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, the disease will cost the United States $20 trillion over the next 40 years. Given the steep medical, emotional and financial costs associated with accelerated memory loss, Corker said he hopes the report will help foster debate over how to provide the best care possible.
"My father had Alzheimer's, so I understand the emotional and financial difficulties facing families dealing with this devastating illness," the former Chattanooga mayor said in a news release last week.
The number of American Alzheimer's patients is expected to triple over the next 25 years, the report says, so "both the pace of research and the quality and cost-effectiveness of services must improve."
The committee identified a common Alzheimer's challenge among the five countries studied: providing "coordinated and integrated care" to patients in more advanced and debilitating stages of illness.
But the report also uncovers Alzheimer's policies that, with serious legislative legwork, could be applied in America. In Japan, for instance, the government has a mandatory social insurance pool for citizens ages 65 and up that provides long-term care benefits to Alzheimer's patients. France has a private insurance market that focuses on long-term dementia care.
"Long-term care" is defined in the report as help on everything from health services to basic "activities of daily living" — eating, bathing, using the toilet and even getting out of bed.
Some countries bankroll third-party health professionals to provide such help, while others emphasize care from family members, friends or neighbors. Either way, there are fiscal challenges, the report notes.
"There is some indication among focus countries that demand for targeted services to caregivers ... is greater than the available supply of such services," according to the report's conclusion.
One of the recommended cost-saving measures involves crafting "policies that can enable individuals with dementia to live in their homes for as long as possible." But the report also calls for significant investment in Alzheimer's research since "there is no cure for the disease in sight."
The report does not indicate whether such investment should come from private or public sources.
"There are enormous costs, both personal and financial, to this disease," said Committee Chairman Herb Kohl, D-Wis. "We urgently need to prepare for the increasing number of Alzheimer's diagnoses and how to curb this mounting epidemic."