Alzheimer's Daughter: Maria Shriver Takes on Disease With Second Shriver Report

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"The economic cost ... is now about $300 billion a year and could triple in coming decades," the report says. Some 78 million Baby Boomers are getting older, which will drive up costs.

Shriver hopes for legislation that will make it easier for women to get time off and help relieve financial strain.

"I hope that they'll look at adjusting social security and give people credit for time off as caregivers," she said.

The report also calls for more affordable services for people with Alzheimer's to take some of the stress off caregivers, more programs designed to help caregivers deal with negative emotions, more flexibility in the workplace and more support for men who serve as caregivers.

Experts say there are some support services available for caregivers, but the health care system makes them difficult to get.

"There's a care coordination component, a third party -- a social worker, trained nurse or a psychologist that works with a family to provide what is called caregiver coaching and provide more readily achievable access to care, which is what families need, but the insurance companies don't pay for it," said Kennedy.

"There's respite care, daycare, home care and nursing home care, but by the time a lot of people get to the moderate to severe Alzheimer's stage, they require 24-hour care," said Dr. David Bennett, director of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center. "Day care, nursing home care and home care are expensive and there's not much support for it."

Long-term care insurance is costly, and Medicare does not pay for nursing home care. The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act became law as part of President Obama's health care reform, and it will provide voluntary long-term care insurance provided by the federal government starting in 2011.

Despite this new law, the Shriver Report says it's not nearly enough to offset much of the financial burden of long-term care, and urges the government to make more financial assistance available.

"As terrible as the disease is today, if we continue at this rate, we won't understand how devastating it's going to be for families and for society and for the economy," said David Loewenstein, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

More Promising Research Needed

While experts say there is a lot of research going on, they believe a lot of it has not been promising.

"It's clear that our leads on groundbreaking treatments are small," said Sano. "We're not making the progress we hoped to make in that area, though there's a good deal of research going on."

"There's been a shift toward researching disease-modifying agents that could change what's happening in the brain," said Bennett. "Those studies have been going on for the last few years and none of the agents has worked."

Bennett also said that some of the drugs are not successful once dementia sets in, but these same drugs are effective before symptoms appear.

"That means identifying biomarkers and intervention studies, which are expensive," he added.

The nature of the brain itself also presents a huge challenge for researchers.

"Unlike other organs in the body, there is a significant challenge to understanding the complexity of the brain," said Loewenstein. "There are billions of neurons, unlike other organ systems that are more straightforward to study."

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