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New treatment for Alzheimer's is moving forward, but can come with a financial cost

A new kind of Alzheimer's medicine currently being researched works by slowing down the progression of the disease.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — A new treatment for Alzheimer's is moving forward in clinical trials. The medicine is called Lecanemab. Researchers said it works by slowing down the progression of the disease.

But even if the government approves it, it still may be too expensive for most families caring for something with Alzheimer's.

It's one of the most expensive illnesses in the U.S. The average family will spend about $215,000 throughout the illness' on care, treatment and other medical bills. 

In East Tennessee, the average income per family is around $59,000. The difference in these two numbers creates a health disparity in the community. 

Donna Barber is a caregiver for her husband, Larry. He is one of around 1,000 people fighting Alzheimer's in East Tennessee. Since his diagnosis in August of 2019, she has had to play the full-time role of being a wife and caregiver. 

Barber said that although she takes care of her husband at the moment, she knows he will need extra care as his condition progresses. She said her concerns about the future and the unknown are inescapable. 

"I think about those things. I think about, 'Oh, goodness, what are we going to do if such and such happens?'" Barber said. "It's very difficult for a family like us to have to deal with and handle those types of finances."  

Some of the current FDA-approved medicines, like Aducanumb, target the amyloid (a kind of protein) for the disease and are not covered by The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid. This forces people to pay out of pocket or choose not to get the treatment. 

Dawne Bunn, Regional Leader for the Alzheimer Association in Tennessee, said that the average person usually is not able to afford the Aducanumb treatment.

"It was still really inaccessible to anybody unless you were the wealthiest of the wealthy," Bunn said.

She feels encouraged that CMS will approve the coverage for the new medicine.

The Alzheimer Association has a 24/7 hotline in multiple families to help the 20,000 Tennesseans currently living with Alzheimer's and their caregivers. The hotline number for the Tennessee region is 800-272-3900. 

For more information and resources you can visit their website

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