Alzheimer's Prevalence, Deaths See Significant Spike

The growth of condition drives total cost of care for sufferers to surpass $250 billion for the second year in a row.

The number of deaths related to Alzheimer's disease has seen a sharp spike over the last several years, jumping 123 percent between 2000 and 2015, according to a new report from the Alzheimer's Association.

The study, 2018 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, found that over that same period, deaths from other major causes tended downward, with heart disease killing 11 percent fewer people over the same period. Meanwhile, total spending on Alzheimer's disease is predicted to clock in at $277 billion this year, a $20 billion increase over last year, making it the second consecutive year spending on the disease will top the quarter-trillion-dollar mark.

The Alzheimer’s Association also released an accompanying report, Alzheimer's Disease: Financial and Personal Benefits of Early Diagnosis.

"This year's report illuminates the growing cost and impact of Alzheimer's on the nation's health care system, and also points to the growing financial, physical and emotional toll on families facing this disease," said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the organization. "Soaring prevalence, rising mortality rates and lack of an effective treatment all lead to enormous costs to society, Alzheimer's is a burden that's only going to get worse. We must continue to attack Alzheimer's through a multidimensional approach that advances research while also improving support for people with the disease and their caregivers."

Other important findings from the report:

  • As the population grows older, the number of individuals living with Alzheimer's will grow, leading the cost of spending on the disease to balloon to $1.1 trillion by 2050;
  • 5.7 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s;
  • In seven years, the number of people older than 65 with the disease is expected to be 7.1 million, a 29 percent increase over the 5.5 million in that age group with the disease this year. Without a breakthrough, that number will climb to 13.8 million by 2050;
  • Two in three people over 65 with the disease are women;
  • The disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the fifth-leading cause for those over 65;
  • Currently, someone develops Alzheimer's dementia in the U.S. every 65 seconds and that rate will nearly double, to 33 seconds, by the middle of the century;
  • New economic modeling suggests that early diagnosis during the mild cognitive impairment (MCI) stage could save the United States up to $7.9 trillion in long-term care and other health expenses;
  • Last year, 16 million Americans provided as much as 18.4 billion hours of care unpaid, including physical, emotional and financial support, worth approximately $232.1 billion, according to an estimate in the report;
  • Given current conditions, in which most Alzheimer's diagnoses, if they are made at all, occur in the dementia phase, the average long-term cost of the disease for an individual is $424,000; and
  • With diagnosis in the MCI stage, the report projects the long-term cost for an individual to be $360,000.

"Discoveries in science mean fewer people are dying at an early age from heart disease, cancer and other diseases," Fargo noted in a news release. "Similar scientific breakthroughs are needed for Alzheimer's disease, and will only be achieved by making it a national health care priority and increasing funding for research that can one day lead to early detection, better treatments and ultimately a cure."

Biological markers, or biomarkers, "will be critical to improving disease diagnosis and researching treatments that may prevent or delay the onset of clinical symptoms, such as memory loss, confusion, and difficulties carrying out routine day-to-day tasks," according to information released by the organization, and are currently revolutionizing the way researchers and physicians understand Alzheimer's.

"Diagnosing Alzheimer's earlier has huge cost-savings implications," Fargo added. "Studies show the expenses associated with identification of people with mild cognitive impairment — the earliest stage at which clinical symptoms are present — are lower than those associated with people in the later stage of dementia. In addition, costs are lower once a person with Alzheimer's gets on the right care path. The disease is better managed, there are fewer complications from other chronic conditions, and unnecessary hospitalizations are avoided. The sooner the diagnosis occurs, the sooner these costs can be managed and savings can begin."

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is a freelance writer specializing in various markets including education and healthcare. He can be reached at jbolkan@gmail.com.

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