By Sandy K. Johnson

Deaths caused by breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease and stroke are declining. By contrast, Alzheimer’s disease related deaths increased more than 70 percent since 2000.

The debilitating disease is “unfolding at a steady unrelenting pace,” said Robert Egge, chief public policy officer of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Federal funding for Alzheimer’s research remained steady at about $450 million for five years, but topped $900 million for 2016.

The costs associated with Alzheimer’s have reached $236 billion a year, half of which is borne by Medicare.

As the massive baby boomer generation moves into old age, and its sheer numbers balloon Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases, the need for research is acute. After a 12-year dry spell in new treatments, there are three drugs in Phase 3 clinical trials, said Dr. Maria Carrillo, the association’s chief science officer.

She said the association is spending more than $80 million on 300 research projects in 20 nations, with an emphasis on innovative ideas and new approaches.

The Alzheimer’s Association prodded the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to fund a four-year study of amyloid scanning to determine whether it can detect key signs of Alzheimer’s. The Imaging Dementia—Evidence for Amyloid Scanning (IDEAS) Study will follow almost 19,000 Medicare patients to research the clinical value of the scan, which is not covered by Medicare and costs $4,000 to $6,000 out of pocket.