For Jeb Bush, combating Alzheimer’s is more than a political issue – it’s a personal endeavor.
Recently the likely presidential candidate has revealed a familial connection with the disease, saying publicly that his mother-in-law, who’s 95, suffers from dementia.
“Every time I see her, it’s the first time. She’s so sweet,” he told a voter after an event in Dubuque, Iowa, earlier this month. “She’s always excited to meet my wife’s new husband.”
Bush has certainly known his mother-in-law, Josefina Gallo Esquivel, for a long time. He and his wife, Columba, have been married for 41 years.
“She’s a gift from God,” he said a few days later, talking about Esquivel. “She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met.”
The former Florida governor, who once launched a half-billion dollar program to recruit biomedical research to the Sunshine State, has not been shy in calling for more federal dollars to address the disease that affects as many as 5 million Americas age 65 and older.
Personal revelations provide further insight into what motivates a candidate and can draw more attention to a cause or issue. In New Hampshire last week, Bush asked voters to email him with ideas to make Alzheimer’s a bigger national priority.
It wasn’t long before Maria Shriver, a leading advocate for Alzheimer’s research who recently launched a campaign that focuses on educating women about the disease, wrote with some ideas. In an open letter penned for the Huffington Post, Shriver urged Bush to continue talking about Alzheimer’s and make it a key issue in the 2016 presidential race.
“Much like President Kennedy launched an expedition to the moon, why not launch a national expedition into the brain? Tap the best and the brightest to join you,” she said, pushing for more innovation in biomedical research.
Bush hasn’t been the only White House hopeful who’s faced questions about the disease on the campaign trail or spoken candidly about it. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson had to change plans shortly after his presidential announcement earlier this month to be with his mother, who’s in the terminal stages of Alzheimer’s. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has pointed to his wife’s work on the issue, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have also called for more funding.
For his part, Bush has described Alzheimer’s research as “significantly” underfunded and said the National Institutes of Health need to be “redirected toward the pressing problems of the elderly and the costs associated with the growing elderly population.”
In an email blast to reporters, the Democratic National Committee highlighted an article Tuesday from the Tampa Bay Times that notes Bush actually vetoed certain Alzheimer’s programs and centers in the state during his time as governor, though he separately worked to approve millions in state dollars tackling other matters related to the disease.
The NIH’s estimated budget for Alzheimer’s is $586 million in 2015 and $638 million in 2016, a fraction of the NIH’s nearly $30.3 billion annual budget for medical research.
Bush emailed Shriver back over the weekend, reiterating his call for more funding and argued in favor of accelerating the Food and Drug Administration regulation approval process for certain drugs and devices.
“I am intrigued by the national expedition of the brain,” he said. “I will study, ponder and think about that aspiration.”
His mother-in-law, he added, are cared for by his sister-in-law and husband, along with help from his wife.
CNN’s Terence Burlij contributed to this report.