01/17/2012 02:21 EST | Updated 03/17/2012 05:12 EDT

Draft government report sets goal for Alzheimer's: Effective ways to treat, prevent it by 2025

WASHINGTON - The government is setting what it calls an ambitious goal for Alzheimer's disease: Development of effective ways to treat and prevent the mind-destroying illness by 2025.

The Obama administration is developing the first National Alzheimer's Plan to find better treatments for the disease and offer better day-to-day care for those afflicted.

A newly released draft of the overall goals for that plan sets the 2025 deadline, but does not provide details of how to fund the necessary research to meet that target date. Today's treatments only ease some dementia symptoms temporarily, and work to find better ones has been frustratingly slow.

A committee of Alzheimer's experts began a two-day meeting Tuesday to help advise the government how the eventual plan, expected in coming months, could meet those goals.

Families have been "reminding us of the enormity of our task, perhaps most important the meaningfulness of it," said Dr. Ron Petersen, an Alzheimer's specialist at the Mayo Clinic, who chairs the committee.

Hanging over the meeting is the reality of a budget crunch. It is not clear how much money the federal government will be able to devote to Alzheimer's, and states have seen their Alzheimer's budgets cut.

"We're not going to fix this without substantial resources," said David Hoffman of the New York State Department of Health, who oversees that state's Alzheimer's programs. "In New York, we're hanging on by our nails."

An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's or similar dementias. It is the sixth-leading killer, and is steadily growing as the population rapidly ages. By 2050, 13 million to 16 million Americans are projected to have Alzheimer's, which would cost $1 trillion in medical and nursing home expenditures.

The national plan is supposed to tackle both the medical and social aspects of dementia, and advocacy groups had urged that it set a deadline for progress.