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Alzheimer’s Group Intensifies Grass-Roots Strategy

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Rep. Mike Coffman has been urged to push for increased federal funding for Alzheimer’s research by volunteer lobbyists in his home state of Colorado.

“It’s so sad to me how little research dollars are spent on finding a cure for Alzheimer’s,” Pollard-Cole said. “Every disease is bad, but if you just look at statistics, I think we should be spending 10 times as much on research for Alzheimer’s as we do right now.”

Some of the group’s recent polling data, Egge said, showed that when it comes to medical conditions, Alzheimer’s was second to cancer atop voters’ minds.

“This shows that this is something that is on the minds of Americans and likely voters in particular,” he said. “Policymakers don’t have to make the case that Alzheimer’s is important because Americans are already dealing with that.”

Iowa has been a major part of the association’s political effort, Egge said. With its first-in-the-nation caucus, it’s a state where voters frequently get to meet presidential contenders up close and can use that precious face time to make their case.

Holden and her family moved from Wisconsin to Iowa City, Iowa, to be near her mother-in-law, Sheryl Holden, who, at 69, has Alzheimer’s. “We can just see Sheryl slipping away little by little,” April Holden said.

The National Alzheimer’s Project Act was signed into law in January 2011. The Alzheimer’s Association said it is now working on implementing the measure. In support of a National Alzheimer’s Plan, Obama’s 2013 budget proposal included $100 million in additional funding for research, education and outreach. This is a major talking point for Holden.

“What we’re asking our representatives to do is support the goals of the plan, and we’re asking for an additional $100 million in the next budget,” she said. “Which sounds like a lot of money, but if you compare that to the National Cancer Institute, it is something that is reasonable.”

The NIH estimates its fiscal 2012 spending on Alzheimer’s will total $498 million. Spending on cancer research is projected at $5.45 billion, while infectious disease research will receive $3.86 billion.

Egge said each of the Alzheimer’s Association’s 350 volunteer lobbyists, or “ambassadors,” met with his or her lawmaker an average three times this year. Next year, Egge said the goal is seven meetings with each member of Congress.

Regardless of what happens on Election Day, Pollard-Cole has a meeting set up with Rep. Mike Coffman (R), her representative, who is locked in a tight race with Democrat Joe Miklosi.

She said she has already met with Coffman and his staff in Colorado and in D.C.

“I think he’s becoming interested in helping co-sponsor some of our upcoming legislation,” said Pollard-Cole, who is a precinct committeewoman for Democrats. “He doesn’t have any personal history of Alzheimer’s in his family. So I think for him, his awareness has really been raised about how widespread this disease is. There are so many competing interests, being a constant presence has made a difference.”

Pollard-Cole said she has been sure to bring at least one other constituent to her meetings with Coffman.

“One of the takes I always take with him is the financial impact it has,” Pollard-Cole said. “Of the dollars we spend on Medicaid funding, a person with Alzheimer’s will spend 19 times as much as someone without Alzheimer’s."

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