The cost to this country of caring for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias will total an estimated $200 billion in 2012, according to a new report from the Alzheimer’s Association out today, entitled “2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.” The annual report articulates the burden of the fatal brain illness on individuals, caregivers, government and the nation’s increasingly stressed health care system.
The $200 billion figure includes $140 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid, according to the not-for-profit group based in Chicago, whose mission is to eliminate the disease through research and care initiatives.
Average per-person Medicare payments for an older individual with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are nearly three times higher than for an older person without these conditions, says the group. the Medicaid payments are 19 times higher. “These costs will only continue to soar in the coming years, given the projected rapidly escalating prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease as baby boomers age.”
The association reports that “unless something is done,” the care costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias will soar to a projected $1.1 trillion (in today’s dollars) by 2050. “That is real money, even in government terms,” according to Dr. William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer with the Alzheimer's Association.
Some health care policy experts are already taking issue with the $200 billion number released today. “Alzheimer’s is a fiscal nightmare for us, as it’s perfectly aligned with aging, where the risks go from 1 in 8 over age 65, to 1 in 2.5 over age 85,” says Michael Hodin, executive director of the Global Coalition of Aging and a columnist for The Fiscal Times. “These costs have got to be grossly understated,” he adds. “They can’t account for the billions in the hidden burdens of family and community caretaking, which will explode as more of us live longer. What a cruel trick if the longevity bequeathed us by the 20th century medical and health advances leads to the 21st century Alzheimer’s pandemic, which is already a mammoth global burden at $604 billion or 1 percent of global GDP.”
Cruelest Disease of All
In this country alone, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. Based on mortality data from 2000-2008, says the Alzheimer’s Association, death rates have declined for most major diseases – heart disease (-13 percent), breast cancer (-3 percent), prostate cancer (-8 percent), stroke (-20 percent) and HIV/AIDS (-29) – while deaths from Alzheimer’s have risen 66 percent in the same period.
According to today’s report, approximately 800,000 people with Alzheimer’s – or one in seven – live alone in this country. As many as half of those people do not have specific plans to help them get needed care. “A lot of services exist for older adults who have dementia, but if patients don’t have someone to help them apply for those services, they may not get the help they need,” Cynthia Barton, a geriatric nurse practitioner at University of California San Francisco’s Memory and Aging Center, told The San Francisco Chronicle.
More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care valued at some $210 billion for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses. Though Alzheimer’s disease was first identified more than 100 years ago, research into its symptoms, causes, risk factors and treatment has taken off only in the last 30 years, the association says.
We must “spend what it takes today to find the prevention and cure to forestall the Alzheimer’s tragedy that both in its health and fiscal dimensions will have us look back at prior curses – HIV/AIDs in the last century, or the Black Plague of the Middle Ages – as, well, manageable,” says Hodin. “As the rest of the globe realizes the longevity that we in the developed world have achieved, the arithmetic becomes unimaginable.”