Mar 13, 2013

The Story Behind the Alzheimer’s Numbers

The number of people in the United States with Alzheimer's dementia will increase dramatically in the next 40 years unless preventive measures are developed soon.

By Nancy Wurtzel
Alzheimer's Reading Room

The Story Behind the Alzheimer’s Numbers
It's worse than we thought.

Without a cure or an effective way of slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease, our nation will face staggering consequences, according to a widely-circulated study published recently by the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging (see the full report here).

The study tracked 10,802 seniors, aged 65 or older, from 1993 to 2011. Every three years the participants were assessed for signs of dementia, and over 400 of the seniors developed Alzheimer's disease during that time period.

As a result of the landmark study, and taking into account the aging baby boomer population which will probably outlive previous generations, there are some new and disturbing Alzheimer's statistics.

The most important figure from the study is the estimation that the number of people living with dementia in the U.S. could reach 13.8 million by the year 2050. That figure is triple the number of affected in 2010, which was about 4.7 million.

There's more.

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Currently, it is costing the U.S. about $200 billion a year to care for people afflicted with Alzheimer's. By 2050 this number could easily balloon to more than a trillion dollars annually.

And then there are the caregivers. While the Rush study doesn't specifically address it, there are upwards of 15 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. If we extrapolate, the number of people caregiving could triple or perhaps even quadruple over the next four decades.

Keep in mind that Alzheimer's is the only disease of the top six causes of death for which there is no cure or even chance for remission. In fact, if you compare Alzheimer's to many other diseases such as heart, AIDS, stroke or breast cancer, you'll find all of these death rates have fallen in recent years and keep on falling. Alzheimer's-related deaths just keep on rising, making it the greatest threat to the health of our citizens and the future of our economy.

The numbers published in the Rush report are sobering and much bigger than previously anticipated.

But what is the takeaway?

As a nation, we are facing some tough choices, and money will be at the root of most of these decisions.

Right now the vast majority of donations and government funding for Alzheimer's is being funneled into research. This simply doesn't add up.

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A cure for Alzheimer's and other dementias has proven elusive. We all want a cure. However, to ignore the anticipated numbers of the Rush study and only funnel monies into research, leaves us woefully unprepared for what lies ahead.

We've got to begin planning for how we will manage the influx of new Alzheimer's patients -- patients who would most certainly overwhelm the current system.

This means earlier intervention and better protocols for disease management. Catching the disease earlier will help everyone and may even begin to erase the stigma that still surrounds Alzheimer's disease.

We must start training and building.

We'll need many more medical personnel and facilities. We'll need more education and understanding of the realities of dementia. We'll need to provide tangible support to the caregivers who are on the front line. We'll need ways to improve the lives of those living with Alzheimer's disease.
All of this takes money, but it will also pave the way for new jobs and countless economic opportunities.

A big plan is required -- a plan of commitment and innovation.

We are a nation of big plans. Let's embrace the numbers in the Rush study and put the full force of our combined efforts into making a bad situation better. The time to act is now. We know what is coming.

Let's do it now so this terrible disease will not completely overtake future generations.

Nancy Wurtzel
Nancy Wurtzel writes Dating Dementia -- a slightly twisted and humorous blog -- about making big changes at midlife. Read about Nancy's journey through divorce, restarting a career, empty nest challenges, moving home, baby boomer issues and caring for an aging parent with Alzheimer’s disease. Visit Dating Dementia.

Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room