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Brett Arends’s ROI: When will we care as much about Alzheimer’s as we did about COVID-19?

Where is the hysteria? Where is the mass panic? Where is the preening virtue signaling? Why aren’t people on Twitter showing off by screaming “granny killer!” at anyone who disagrees with them?

The subject in question is dementia and cognitive impairment: Diseases that are killing many, many more Americans than COVID-19 ever did or will, but which apparently almost nobody cares about.

A new study has just revealed that a third of our senior citizens are now suffering from dementia or cognitive impairment. A third.

That works out at about 25 million Americans, and rising, who are suffering from these terrible and increasingly crippling conditions, which diminish and destroy their minds, and lead to an early death.

This includes 6 million who have dementia, in most cases Alzheimer’s, for which there is scant treatment and no cure.

Read: 4 things you can do to fight dementia and improve your memory

Yet the federal government spends less than 0.1% as much on research into these illnesses each year as it spent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Total spending on Alzheimer’s research this year: $3.5 billion.

Total spending on COVID-19 since early 2020? Oh, $4 trillion—1,100 times as much.

As Leslie Nielsen said in Naked Gun, while standing in front of an exploding fireworks factory: Nothing to see here, folks! Move along. Nothing to see here!

The latest shocking numbers on cognitive impairment and dementia are reported in the latest edition of the Neurology Journal of the American Medical Association.

They are based on in-depth interviews with about 3,500 senior citizens drawn from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study database. All participants were over 65. The average age was 76. Some 60% were women, and 71% identified as non-Hispanic white.

Each person studied was given neuropsychological tests for an hour to see if they suffered from dementia or mild cognitive impairment. The tests were supplemented with 20 minute interviews with a close relative or friend.

Some 10% were diagnosed with dementia and 22% with cognitive impairment.

Those with cognitive impairment had the same average age, 76, as everyone else in the study. But those diagnosed with full-on dementia were typically older, with an average age of 82.

Treating people with dementia already costs the U.S. an estimated $275 billion a year. And this situation is only going to get worse. The federal government estimates that the number of people over 65 is going to jump by another 20 million, or more than a third, by 2040.

“As longevity increases and as [the] so-called baby boomer generation ages, the burden of cognitive impairment is projected to increase in the decades ahead for individuals, families, and programs that provide care and services for people with dementia,” warn the study’s authors, led by neurology and psychiatry professors Jennifer Manly, Richard Jones and Kenneth Langa at Columbia University, Brown University and the University of Michigan respectively.

No kidding.

The study confirmed what we already knew: That years of education in childhood help reduce your risk of getting cognitive impairment or dementia later in life. As a result, rising levels of education across the population has been lowering the percentage of elderly people getting dementia across rich countries.

But there’s bad news as well. Rising levels of obesity and diabetes, mainly the result of our toxic food supply, are making dementia more common.

“Given a leveling of educational attainment among more recent birth cohorts, as well as rising rates of cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity and diabetes, it will be important to track dementia incidence and prevalence in the years ahead to monitor a potential reversal of the favorable trends in recent decades, which would have serious implications for the burden of dementia on families and public programs,” the study’s authors write.

The widespread indifference to the dementia epidemic stands in stark contrast to the public reaction to COVID since it erupted just under three years ago. COVID-19 killed, or was involved in the death of, 1 million Americans. Alzheimer’s, as mentioned, is currently killing six times as many and this is not a one-off but an epidemic on permanent “repeat.” Dementia mainly affects the elderly, but so what? Do they not count?

As it happens—though one was not really supposed to point this out—so did COVID-19. Our own Center for Disease Control estimates that 80% of all the Americans who died of COVID-19 were over 65.

OK, so one can make lots of comparisons. It’s not just COVID-19. Think of the vast sums of money we spend on other numbers of things, whether it’s collectively, through the federal budget, or individually, for instance on luxuries or those “smart” phones that are turning everyone into morons.

My point isn’t necessarily that the massive reaction to the COVID pandemic was wrong, but that our allocation of resources — and our compassion — makes little sense. One minute we’re making heroic efforts to fight a disease that kills 1 million. The next we’re shrugging our shoulders about a disease that kills 6 million — and will keep doing so, over and over and over again.

Large numbers of young and middle-aged people may be indifferent to the dementia crisis because they figure it won’t happen to them. A third of them, at least, will be wrong. And when it does happen to them, of course, it will be too late to go back and try to change society’s priorities. That will be left to the next generation of young and middle-aged people, who will figure… it won’t happen to them. Rinse and repeat.

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