Bill Gates' Personal Connection to Alzheimer's
And his belief that the first survivor is out there
November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month
“Alzheimer’s is the only disease with no cure, no treatments to stop, delay or prevent the disease—and no survivors. But this will change. The first survivor of Alzheimer's is out there,” proclaims the Alzheimer’s Association.
Nearly six million Americans and their families struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, including Bill Gates’ father, 93-year old Bill Gates II. People are living longer than ever before, which should be a wonderful thing. “But what happens when it is not?” Bill Gates asked on his blog, GatesNotes.com. A long life is not enough. “People should be able to enjoy their later years…But of all the disorders that plague us late in life, one stands out as a particularly big threat to society: Alzheimer’s disease.”
Bill Gates has committed to donate more than 100 million dollars towards finding a cure. The financial burden of Alzheimer’s on healthcare systems is one of the fastest growing in developed countries, and one that will continue to grow without a breakthrough in prevention or treatment.
More devastating, as Gates knows from personal experience: “The human cost of Alzheimer’s is much more difficult to put into numbers.” His experience has exposed him to how hopeless it feels when you or a loved one develops Alzheimer’s. “It’s a terrible disease that devastates both those who have it and their loved ones. This is something I know a lot about, because men in my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s. I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it. It feels a lot like you’re experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew.
“When I announced that I was investing in Alzheimer’s research for the first time last fall, I thought I knew what to expect,” Bill Gates wrote in July on his blog post, Why diagnosing Alzheimer’s today is so difficult—and how we can do better. “The things I’ve seen over the last seven months make me more hopeful than ever…What I didn’t see coming was the amazing response I got from the Alzheimer’s community at large. Because my family didn’t talk publicly about my dad’s diagnosis before the announcement, I had yet to experience how remarkable the support community is.”
Gates discussed his involvement with Alzheimer’s research earlier this year with Maria Shriver on NBC’s Today show. “I really believe that if we orchestrate the right resources, it’s solvable.” In 2017 alone, Americans spent 259 billion dollars caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Despite billions more spent on research, scientists don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s or have effective treatments.
“Too many Alzheimer’s dollars are going towards mainstream treatments that don’t work,” said Gates. In answer to a reader question through his blog, How close are we getting to understanding and curing Alzheimer’s? Gates answered, “I’m optimistic that we’ll see a significant breakthrough within the next 10 to 20 years. Our understanding of how the brain ages is advancing a great deal, and that’s fueling a lot of promising research in new areas. Most of the drug trials so far have focused on two specific pathways to treatment (amyloid and tau). I hope those approaches succeed, but I’m excited that scientists are also beginning to explore less mainstream targets. A more diverse drug pipeline will increase our odds of discovering a breakthrough.”