Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is ready for his next endeavor: joining the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
Gates revealed Monday that he invested $50 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund, which is working on new approaches to treating dementia. Gates also plans to invest an additional $50 million in start-ups working on Alzheimer’s research, according to an interview with Reuters.
“It’s a miracle that people are living so much longer, but longer life expectancies alone are not enough,” wrote Gates in a blog post. “People should be able to enjoy their later years—and we need a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s to fulfill that.”
Gates said this is a personal investment, not one offered through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has invested in research to stop the spread of diseases such as HIV.
Gates said he spent the last year learning about the disease, speaking with researchers and other experts about what they need to fight Alzheimer’s. Gates said progress is needed in five areas, including better use of data and a better understanding about how the disease unfolds.
“I first became interested in Alzheimer’s because of its costs—both emotional and economic—to families and healthcare systems. The financial burden of the disease is much easier to quantify. A person with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia spends five times more every year out-of-pocket on healthcare than a senior without a neurodegenerative condition. Unlike those with many chronic diseases, people with Alzheimer’s incur long-term care costs as well as direct medical expenses. If you get the disease in your 60s or 70s, you might require expensive care for decades.
These costs represent one of the fastest growing burdens on healthcare systems in developed countries. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Americans will spend $259 billion caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in 2017. Absent a major breakthrough, expenditures will continue to squeeze healthcare budgets in the years and decades to come. This is something that governments all over the world need to be thinking about, including in low- and middle-income countries where life expectancies are catching up to the global average and the number of people with dementia is on the rise.”
Gates is familiar with the impact Alzheimer’s has on families, both financially and emotionally. Gates cites a family history with the disease.
“I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it,” Gates wrote. “It feels a lot like you’re experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, the number could rise to 16 million.