Over the years, but especially since the state began investing heavily in research at our universities a decade ago, Kentucky has built a strong reputation as a medical leader.

We will forever be home to the world's first self-contained artificial heart, for example, as well as the nation's first successful hand transplant.

Another area where we shine is in the search for a cure to end Alzheimer's disease.  At the University of Kentucky, we have not one but two of the world's top 50 researchers, and the school is home to one of the nation's 10 original federally funded centers focused on this debilitating and especially cruel disease.

Worldwide, it is estimated that 35 million people suffer from Alzheimer's, including about 80,000 Kentuckians, a number projected to grow to 120,000 by the year 2030.

We have already seen phenomenal growth over the last decade, with the number of Alzheimer-related deaths in Kentucky rising nearly 60 percent since 1999.

Earlier this fall, the General Assembly's Health and Welfare Committee dedicated part of its meeting to this disease.  Those affiliated with the Alzheimer's Association updated my colleagues on the latest research and just how much it affects not only those diagnosed but their families as well.

It is estimated that as many as 70 percent of those with the disease are still living at home.  Nationally, according to the association, 10 million Americans provide 8.5 billion hours of care each year, including 153,000 friends and family in Kentucky.

In addition to the human cost, Alzheimer's and dementia have significant financial costs as well.  The National Conference of State Legislatures says that Medicaid alone spent $21 billion in 2005 on care, at a rate of nine times more per patient than others of the same age group who did not have the disease.  The business community, meanwhile, indirectly loses up to $37 billion a year as employees miss work to provide care.

Beyond our leading role in Alzheimer's research, Kentucky has also been among the first states to authorize what we call Golden Alerts, which are similar to the Amber Alerts used when a child is missing and time is critical.  Less than 20 states have similar programs.

As Baby Boomers age, there will be a growing need for more long-term care and assisted-living facilities to handle a rising number of patients with Alzheimer's, since only a few in Kentucky are currently able to offer specialized care.  We will also need more community-based programs that help patients and families alike.

Making this possible will among our top priorities in the years ahead as we look for ways to ease the physical and emotional pain Alzheimer's and dementia can cause.  Hopefully one day in the not-too-distant future we can say that it was Kentucky that led the way in banishing these diseases once and for all.

If you have any thoughts on this issue or any other affecting state government, please don't hesitate to contact me.  My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181.  For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.