SID SALTER: Alzheimer’s conference focuses on hope and UMMC’s assets

By Sid Salter

One of my last civic participations in the Jackson community before heading north to a new career at Mississippi State University was to moderate a panel discussion called ‘Hope on the Horizon’ at the University of Mississippi Medical Center on the latest research findings in Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias.
After watching my late mother fade slowly from the vibrant, brilliant educator and grandmother she was into the fog and silence of Alzheimer’s and my late father lose his cherished and lifelong dignity to dementia, my interest in the discussion was far more than academic.
The program was a collaboration between the Alzheimer’s Association Mississippi Chapter and UMMC’s Memory Impairment and Neurodegenerative Dementia (MIND) Center.
“Hope on the Horizon” featured a screening from HBO’s documentary, “The Alzheimer’s Project” and a panel discussion between Dr. Heather Snyder, the Alzheimer’s Association’s senior associate director of medical and scientific relations, Dr. Thomas Mosley, MIND Center director and professor of medicine, Dr. James Irby of Methodist Rehabilitation Center, Dr. Ronald Schwartz of the Hattiesburg Clinic, Dr. George Patton of St. Dominic’s Health Systems, and Dr. Mark Meeks of UMMC’s Division of Geriatrics.
As 78 million ‘baby boomers’ surge toward retirement, the Alzheimer’s Association noted in a 2010 report that an estimated 5.3 million Americans of have Alzheimer’s disease and about 5.1 million are aged 65 or older. That means about one in eight people aged 65 or older have Alzheimer’s disease.
The group estimates that by 2030 about 7.7 million Americans 65 or older are expected to have the disease. It gets worse. Estimates are that by 2050, the number of Americans aged 65 or older who have Alzheimer’s is projected to be between 11 million and 16 million.
UMMC officials report that the university’s MIND Center is a major research initiative directed by Mosley, a nationally recognized expert in brain aging. ‘The MIND Center brings together some of the largest neuro-epidemiologic studies ever conducted, state-of-the-art brain imaging and powerful new genetic technologies with the goal of accelerating the pace of discovery in the search for treatments that may slow or prevent
Alzheimer’s and other forms of cognitive decline,’ a UMMC spokesman said.
The MIND Center is a tremendous asset at Mississippi’s only research teaching hospital at UMMC. But that asset is only as good as the funding for the ongoing research. The politics of a two-year moratorium on congressionally-directed appropriations or earmarks is good for politicians who are trying to tap into voter anger over government borrowing and spending.
But the practical impact of an earmark moratorium on research activities at our state’s universities would be stark in areas like critical research on Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, kidney disease and other maladies that are of particular concern to the Mississippians those diseases attack.
So, too, would the $100 billion in spending cuts being debated in the U.S. House. University research, funded by federal tax dollars, leads to more and better private sector jobs in Mississippi. That research also leads to better health and a higher quality of life.
To be certain, government spending can and should be cut. But cutting funding for university research on diseases that carry a high cost of care like that Alzheimer’s is penny wise and pound-foolish.
The same can be said for agricultural research that leads to better and cheaper foods and fibers at MSU or other initiatives at Mississippi’s research institutions.
If you are one of the 78 million Baby Boomers, do you really want Alzheimer’s disease research to go unfunded? I don’t. I’ve seen the costs of Alzheimer’s – in both fiscal and human terms – and the research is a bargain.

Contact syndicated column Sid Salter at (662) 325-2506 or e-mail ssalter@library.msstate.edu.