On the heels of Food and Drug Administration approval for a new Alzheimer’s treatment, Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference touting Florida’s funding to help fight the disease.
The state’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes a more than $12 million increase in Alzheimer’s and dementia funding. The state’s total commitment for the 2021/2022 fiscal year to help with issues stemming from the disease is more than $51 million.
DeSantis spoke about the funding while standing outside an assisted living facility called The Windsor at San Pablo in Jacksonville.
“Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, and the sixth leading cause of death in the state of Florida. More people lose their lives to Alzheimer’s than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined,” DeSantis said. “But despite those numbers, we’re undeterred. We’re committed to offering our support, and look forward to the medical breakthrough that will eventually bring a cure.”
Florida has the second-highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S., with an estimated 580,000 Floridians battling the disease. That number is projected to increase to more than 720,000 by 2025.
The high numbers are the result of an aging population in a state popular among retirees. Nearly 10% of Floridians are over the age of 75, which means the state’s residents are particularly vulnerable to the disease. The likeliness of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis increases with age by nearly 14% for people aged 75-84 and by 35% for people over the age of 85.
As a result of its high-risk population, Florida is the only state in the nation that has Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias listed as its own priority within a State Health Improvement Plan, according to a press release from the Governor’s Office.
Part of the state’s budget for next fiscal year will go toward early detection programs, which are becoming increasingly important after the FDA temporarily approved a new drug called Aduhelm. Clinical trials for Aduhelm were the first to show a reduction in a type of brain plaque that shows up in Alzheimer’s patients.
But the drug can only be effective if used in the early stages of the disease, according to Vice President of Public Policy for the Alzheimer’s Association Michelle Branham, who spoke at Monday’s press conference.
“I think early detection, early diagnosis will be paramount and key for a drug like Aduhelm, because you would have to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease early in the disease to be most effective,” Branham said.
“Any breakthroughs that we see, we’re gonna look at and really want to be helpful,” DeSantis added.
One early detection program funded in part by the state is offered through the Mayo Clinic. It offers free memory screenings to detect dementia early on in patients. The Mayo Clinic also operates the Brain Bank, which collects brain tissue from Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients.
Rep. Scott Plakon said it was the Brain Bank that helped him better understand what his wife of 29 years, Susie, had gone through after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014 at the age of 53.
“The Brain Bank, we’ve more than doubled the funding this year. When Susie was diagnosed, we thought it was all Alzheimer’s. We found out after she passed away she had both Alzheimer’s and Lewy body dementia at the same time. That would have never happened without the increase in funding, without the Brain Bank itself,” Plakon said speaking at Monday’s press conference.
Plakon’s wife passed away in 2018.
The Mayo Clinic receives grant funding from the Department of Health, which awards grants and fellowships through the Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program, a program that funds research related to Alzheimer’s disease. This year the grant program will receive $5 million. Last year the program was awarded $4.5 million in grants.
The state also funds a “brain bus,” which travels the state to create awareness about dementia and refers people to memory clinics for screenings.