Kansas’ Dennis Moore returns to Congress for personal testimony

McClatchy Washington BureauFebruary 26, 2014 

— Four years ago, Dennis Moore retired from the House of Representatives, discouraged by relentless partisan bickering.

The former Kansas congressman returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to urge his old colleagues on both sides of the aisle to invest in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease from which he suffers.

Moore, 68, told a Senate health appropriations subcommittee about the loss of his father to Alzheimer’s, and his own diagnosis in 2011.

“I had become concerned when I noticed I was having some difficulty remembering random events and difficulty managing our household finances,” Moore said. “Since then, I have learned coping skills but still recognize the issue I have with my short-term memory loss.”

Increased funding for Alzheimer’s research, education and support should be a bipartisan goal, Moore said.

“I really think we need to find those areas where we can and should find agreement,” he said. “Good people on both sides work together, and there truly are good people on both sides. This is a disease that is affecting many people around the world. … We need to find a way to really manage it more effectively.”

A former district attorney, Moore served six terms as a Democrat representing Kansas’ 3rd District.

In addition to his advocacy for the Alzheimer’s Association, Moore now fills his time by volunteering to play guitar at senior centers and spending time with family. He still drives, using a GPS device just in case he gets lost.

“I’m getting a little bored after having this busy, busy career over the years,” he confessed. “Stir-crazy is a good way to put it.”

At the hearing, Moore read from a prepared statement and answered questions from his former colleagues.

He spoke in personal terms about the economic costs of Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia in older adults. The disease is fatal.

“Not only does Alzheimer’s steal our memories, independence and eventually our ability to function, it demands increasing amounts of care,” Moore told the panel of senators. “Beyond the exhaustion and stress, there is the financial burden. Alzheimer’s is creating an enormous strain on the health care system, families and the federal budget.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., asked Moore what he does on a daily basis to keep symptoms at bay.

Moore said he takes medication and exercises daily.

“My wife encourages me to do that and I’m a good husband. I say, ‘Yes dear,’” he said to laughter.

“The way that you’re living your life gives others courage and hope,” Moran said.

Moran, the ranking member of the subcommittee, called Moore a friend and applauded his desire to take his own difficult challenge and use it to help others.

He and other senators at the hearing likened finding a cure for Alzheimer’s to investing in the goal of landing on the moon.

For every $27 Medicaid and Medicare spends, the federal government only spends one dollar on Alzheimer’s research, Moran said. Without a way to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s, Moran said, “it will be all but impossible to rein in our nation’s health care costs.”

The hearing represented the first time Moore had given congressional testimony instead of receiving it.

“It’s certainly different,” he said in an interview afterwards. “I mean, I used to be sitting on the other side of the bench up there, but I think this is so important.”

Moore testified Wednesday alongside comedian Seth Rogen, who started the fund Hilarity for Charity after his mother-in-law was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 55.

“After forgetting who she and her loved ones were, my mother-in-law, a teacher for three years, then forgot how to speak, feed herself, dress herself and go to the bathroom herself,” Rogen said. “All by the age of 60.”

Rogen bantered with lawmakers, but said he was serious about his message that Alzheimer’s needs to get the government funding it deserves.

“I’ve personally seen the massive amount of financial strain this disease causes, and if the American people ever decide to reject genitalia-driven comedy, I would no longer be able to afford it,” Rogen said.

More than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. The disease cost the country an estimated $203 billion last year, including $142 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid.

Email: lwise@mcclatchydc.com

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