With people living longer and the surge in baby boomer retirees, Alzheimer’s Disease looms as a major financial burden for the nation, Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) warned Tuesday.

“If we don’t make great breakthroughs on Alzheimer’s, we are going to be sunk in 30 years; the costs to our society are going to be immeasurable,” Harkin told an aging forum in Washington, D.C.

The senator noted the risks of getting Alzheimer’s are exponentially greater for people in their 80s than those in their 60s. The percentage of Americans past 80 is expected to soar in the decades ahead with improved health care and the coming of (old) age of the boomer generation.

On another retiree issue, the Iowa Democrat characterized as “grossly misguided” the idea in Washington that Social Security benefits have to be cut to deal with the national debt.

He said he is drafting legislation to enroll private-sector workers in pension plans who currently don’t have them.

Harkin said employers would have to automatically enroll employees in the plans and would have to make modest contributions.

Unlike 401(k) plans, he said, these plans would be strictly for retirement needs with no borrowing and no lump-sum payouts.

“I will move the bill through my committee next year. Whether I can get it through the House I don’t know,” said the senator.

Harkin spoke at a seminar co-sponsored by the TIAA-CREF Institute and the Alfred Sloan Foundation.