Enough with AIDS: Time to cure Alzheimers

Let me tell you about my mother’s side of the family. First, my grandmother Martha. She came to this country from Cuba with her family as a teenager. She met and married Donald Kent, then a young soldier returning from Korea who later became a writer and journalist. Together they had two children, my mother Debbie and uncle Brian.

When my mother was sixteen my grandfather Donald Kent got cancer, out of nowhere, and died. (He never smoked and didn’t work with chemicals. To this day nobody knows how it hapened.) He was still young, in his late thirties. My grandmother remarried another Korea veteran, coincidentally also named Don (to whom she is still married,) and had my ‘half-uncle’ Richard.

Three years ago my grandma Martha got dementia; her brain functions declined, she stopped remembering some things, but she was still basically okay; she still did Salsa dancing with her husband Don, a marathon runner currently in his sixties, and could still tie her own shoes. The next year she could hardly do anything for herself. She was diagnosed with Alzheimers.

When I saw my grandmother today she was totally zoned out. She cheerfully laughed at everything, but only because she couldn’t understand it. She called everyone she saw “baby,” at first I thought she was being nice, then I realized it was because she couldn’t remember who they were (and these are her own family members.) It broke my heart: that’s Alzheimers for you.

She is currently only 56 years old.

Donald Kent did not have to die in his thirties of cancer. My grandma Martha didn’t need to get Alzheimers.

We could have a cure for Alzheimers and cancer, if we would only get our priorities straight.

Number one: Stem cell research. Not much else to say about that.

Number two: enough AIDS funding. I am sick and tired of hearing about AIDS. Let the African leaders cure their own damn problems. Idi Amin had enough money to buy all the luxury cars and fancy palaces he wanted, while his own people starved: this is not our business. America needs to look out for Americans, and right now thousands of Americans have Alzheimers and cancer, FAR fewer than have AIDS. AIDS affects a tiny portion of America compared to cancer, Alzheimers and Diabetes (which my Godfather died of years ago.) Billions of American government dollars are going to fund AIDS relief in Africa and AIDS scientific research here in this country. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. We need to get our priorities straight, dammit, and stop pouring so many medical funds into the money pit of African AIDS. And AIDS in America is transmitted through unsafe sex, by human error: It is preventable with safe sex practices which hundreds of homosexuals and heterosexuals alike apparently are too irresponsible to follow. Unlike Alzheimers, which strikes people for no damn reason at all. For God’s sweet sake, where’s the justice?

America has the best scientists, the best resources and the most money. It’s time for us to find a cure for Alzheimers and cancer. No, reducing AIDS funding and transferring it to other diseases is not the magic bullet that will solve the problem, but it is a step in the right direction.

Sorry about those numbers (I wrote this kinda fast.) My grandmother is 66, not 56 (still young to have Alzheimers,) and my ‘step-grandpa’ Don is in his seventies, not sixties (he still does Marines-style sand running on the beach in Florida every day.)

PF: AIDS affects a tiny portion of America compared to cancer, Alzheimers and Diabetes […] It’s time for us to find a cure for Alzheimers and cancer. No, reducing AIDS funding and transferring it to other diseases is not the magic bullet that will solve the problem, but it is a step in the right direction.

Why are the two mutually exclusive? If you’re advocating more funding for Alzheimers and cancer, why not just advocate that? Why should you make it a competition between two groups of people suffering from tragic diseases, and incidentally piss off a lot of people by implying that AIDS sufferers somehow “asked for it”? (Given that some studies indicate that mental and physical exercise help reduce Alzheimers risk, and that heart disease increases it, and given the lifestyle factors involved in diabetes and cancer, someone who wanted to be similarly mean-spirited could argue that sufferers from those diseases were to some extent “asking for it” too.)

Very sorry to hear about your grandmother, and I do agree that we need to put more work both into research for cures and into healthy lifestyle improvement efforts. But I think it’s a counterproductive and shortsighted approach to try to argue that somehow AIDS doesn’t “deserve” the funding as much. (After all, if we’re going to be coldheartedly pragmatic about it as you seem to suggest, we should take into account that Alzheimers mostly affects people in old age when their productive years are pretty much over, as opposed to AIDS which largely strikes the young, so it’s better for society as a whole to concentrate on fixing AIDS. I don’t buy into that sort of inhuman clinical calculus myself, but you’re the one who brought it up.)

It’s also possible that any eventual AIDS cure could lead to new insights into cures for all manner of other diseases. Science never happens in a vacuum.

Except for the space program, of course.

Deciding where to spend medical research money is one of the great ethical controversies of modern times. One thing that I feel distinguishes AIDS from most other incurable diseases is that we know exactly how to prevent AIDS, i.e. if you abstain from certain activities, you are almost guaranteed not to get it. The only other disease that has such a strong causal link with a specific activity is lung cancer, but even if you never touch a cigarette, you can still get lung cancer from other stuff you breathe, or from undetermined origins. Pragmatically, it seems like there would be a better return on investment to spend $1 on stopping people from having risky sex or smoking than spending $1 on research with no guarantee that a cure is ever going to be found.

I’m sorry to hear about your family’s suffering. However, when you post stuff like this…

… I can only say you should do some research on the AIDS crisis in Africa. Uganda is actually one of the success stories on the continent.

Prevention/education programs are actually quite effective at reducing AIDS rates, and they are relatively cheap to deploy on a per-capita basis. Furthermore, some countries are approaching AIDS infection rates of 30% and may reach 50%. This has the potential to throw much of sub-saharan Africa into chaos. Aside from the humanitarian issues, there are valid arguments that stability in these countries is helpful for our economy, since they provide a number of natural resources to the world.

Quite frankly, I don’t think you are benefitting the cause of increased funding for cancer and Alzheimer’s by adopting such divisive and factually incorrect rhetoric.

Nothing to add to the debate, but I wanted to share this from the local community newspaper Police Blotter:

This made me sad, thinking about a lost old lady. Still, the husband had the forethought to have is wife wear a bracelet with their address on it.

AIDs research is giving us a lot of information on a whole host of diseases. How the body fights illness is pretty intigral to alot of diseases. There may be many things that come out of that research that may not work for AIDs that work for something else. Also, I think that in the long run Alzheimers may turn out to be a basket of different conditions that are all lumped under this name. The more other research is being done out there the better off it will be. As awful as what you are facing is, and god knows I do not ever want to face it myself, AIDs research is not what is taking your grandmother from you.

I wish you could turn back the clock, not write this OP, and write another OP that dealt with Alzheimers alone, and didn’t mention AIDS. This thread will go nowhere because you have needlessly pissed people off, yet you have a great point in that we need to cure Alzheimers very badly indeed.

Setting aside needle-drug users for the moment: AIDS is transmitted mainly through sex, and sex is one of the most “natural,” “human” things people do. It’s preventable through not having sex, sure. But that’s not totally reasonable for humans; our sex drive is one of the things that define us.

Just leave AIDS out of the picture. You’ve got a great case on Alzheimers alone. You could as easily argue that medical research dollars are being spent on Homeland Security, or whatnot, and it’s Bush’s fault – you would have hijacked your own OP just as effectively.

Seriously, you have a great OP if you’d leave AIDS out of it. Consider having this one shut down, wait a week, and try again.

Oh, why thank you. I think I’ll invent a time machine so I can go back in time and un-write this thread because I wouldn’t ever want to piss people off. Now that you mention it, I think I’ll also kill Hitler.

I bring up the AIDS funding because it’s an important and relevant point. I don’t see how you could argue with my logic here:

Alzheimers affects more Americans than AIDS.

More American money should go towards fighting Alzheimers than AIDS.

That’s it. Simple. Clear. Concise.

You make a damn good point: The Orwellian ‘Homeland Security’ department, the ‘war on terror’ and the ‘war on drugs’ should all be diverted to medical funding or another such purposeful cause. Particularly all the money spent on busting people for pot.

Forgive my rant, I was quite emotional while I was writing it. I tend to get pissed off about stuff. I think pumping money into trying to cure a virus and pumping money into trying to cure a puzzling brain disease like Alzheimers are possibly equally a gamble; however more suffer from the former than the latter.

Can we see some numbers on that?

You can’t invent a time machine, but you can bow out of a thread and let it die, or ask for it to be closed, and try again later. Seriously, you made a big mistake by bringing AIDS into it. Alzheimers is a big enough topic on its own.

But while we’re on the subject of AIDS – it’s a contagious disease; that makes a huge difference in terms of funding. If we do nothing, Alzheimers will progress at a steady pace, whereas AIDS may explode. Same goes for all contagious diseases that kill relatively few people right now, but have the potential for wiping out the globe. It’s more complicated than merely the question of how many are affected today.

I don’t know that I’d call them equally a gamble. I mean, we actually know what causes AIDS. We’ve identified the virus, we’ve found ways to test for its prescence, and we developed dozens of drugs to curb and retard its effects. Have we been able to do any of that with Alzheimers? Is there even a test for Alzheimers, or is it still diagnosed from symptoms? AIDS, at least, we have some base to work from. It’s a virus, we know how viruses work, we’ve been able to cure other viruses in the past. A cure for AIDS seems far more immanent than a cure for Alzheimers. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to make the deadly disease that’s easiest to cure the funding priority.

If you want to be strictly pragmatic about it, AIDS is the real danger. Alzheimers mostly effects the elderly. How many more productive years is an Alzheimers cure going to give your average Alzheimers victim? AIDS can infect anyone of any age: babies and children with their entire lives ahead of them, young men and women whom society has already invested considerable time educating and rearing, older, more experienced citizens holding vital positions in the economy, and, yes, even the elderly themselves.

I’m also not as willing to discount the epidemic numbers of AIDS victims in Africa and Asia. No offense, PaulFitzroy, but your grandma is just as much a stranger to me as some HIV-positive Ugandan. They’ve both got my sympathy in equal measure, but curing Alzheimers simply isn’t a priority. The number of Alzheimer’s cases every year is (so far as I know) fixed. AIDS infection is spiraling out of control. We’re staring down the barrel of a second Black Death here. We simply cannot afford to ignore this: there’s no telling what sort of global chaos will come out of a catastrophe like this. At the very least, the prospect of fully half of Africa and Asia rotting in their houses and providing a breeding ground for God-only-know what other super-plagues should give anyone pause.

Sorry, Paul, but we need that AIDS funding, and then some. I know what you’re going through with your grandmother: I lost one of my grandmothers to Alzheimers, and she did not have a good time of it before the end. She got horrible, horrible paranoid delusions. She was convinced that the interns were secretly killing patients, carving them up, and hiding body parts in the laundry carts, and she couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t get her out of there. It was a blessing when the disease progressed so far that she couldn’t speak any more. I hope to hell that there wasn’t anything at all left of her brain by that point: I hate to think of her still conscious and demented and terrified, unable to move or speak. And, of course, there’s some evidence that the disease is genetic, so maybe I have that to look forward to, myself. I want there to be a cure as much as anyone, but there are simply more important diseases out there, and AIDS is one of them.

Right. Avoiding pissing people off is the only way to expect sympathy from anyone. Why the sarcasm?


Look, I’ll agree that AIDS gets far more attention than is warranted by its hazards, and I think that far too much of that attention is focused on cure rather than prevention. Still, I wouldn’t claim that Alzheimer’s disease deserves greater priority – and I say that, even though my own grandfather is dying of that disease.

Those numbers are not static Paul. AIDS is communicable; cancer and Alzheimer’s are not.

Not to choose one over the other, as you suggest, but communicability is not irrelevant to the discussion.

I made a similar point a few years back regarding hepatitis C vs AIDS funding.

My contention was that hepatitis was a greater health menace, and that due to politics AIDS was getting all the attention and funding. Friends from Act Up explained to me that an important function of the high-profile fund-raising activities was to raise awareness of the disease, overcome the associated shame, and show support for those suffering. They also suggested that this effect would carry over to people suffering from other diseases.

An example of the importance of high-profile communication : In the 1980s there was a lot of AIDs denial in France (where I now live) - other European countries were providing syringe programs, while France considered that such programs would encourage drug use and would only deliver syringes to paying customers with medical prescriptions. France now has an unusually high rate of HIV infection.

Another point - if in fact alzheimer’s research funding is unusually low relative to the number of cases, maybe it’s because alzheimer’s is seen as an inevitability. If so, the OP is right to challenge that view.

I guess that ultimately there are a lot of diseases out there, and we need to find the resources to fight them all. And yes, I’d have to agree that communicability and the age of the victims are relevant.

Alzheimer’s is in the top ten causes of death in the US, though the numbers for alzheimer’s prevalence seem to be all over the place - diagnostic tools for early stages of the disease are apparently subject to debate. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

312,133 (other estimats go as high as 1 million) Americans diagnosed with HIV http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/stats/hasr1402/table1.htm

3.9 million (1.8%) Americans have been infected with HCV (hepatitis C) http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/hepatitis/c/fact.htm

Forgive my ignorance here.

But does it not seem that since Alzheimers generally strikes the elderly, the disease is hastening what is inevitable in the very near future and may skew the ‘cause of death’ totals somewhat?

Heck, how do I ask this question and not sound like an ass?

Say a 72 year old man develops Alzheimers and dies from it 3 years later. What would the likelyhood that he would have survived if he had not developed the disease seeing as how he had reached the average life expectancy anyway?

Can someone help me out here? Not only do I not know the answer, I can’t ask the question right.

That’s a fair point; it’s somewhat similar to what Miller said. It’s a sad question to have to ask, but I don’t think it makes you an ask to say there’s more to look at than just the number of people who die of the disease. Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease and the lack of stem cell research in this country is a joke. The amount of money we give to treat AIDS doesn’t change that.

Eh. I’m not at all confident that it would carry over to any significant degree. I just can’t imagine the general public becoming more concerned over hepatitis or tuberculosis suffers, after years of hearing AIDS being touted around as the disease du jour. Besides, there is no comparable stigma to having these diseases, and so I’m not at all convinced that increased sympathy for AIDS sufferers would produce any noticeable increase in sympathy towards victims of other diseases.

I’m not saying that we should pull the plug on AIDS funding, mind you. (I must emphasize this, since I’ve learned that many activists react adversely to ANY complaint about the amount of attention that AIDS gets.) However, I do remain concerned about the disproportionate amount of attention that this disease gets, especially since it is almost 100% preventable.