Pam Belluck's lead story in today's New York Times, "In a Land of Aging, Children Counter Alzheimer's," is a heartwarming story about the relationship between the young and old in South Korea where the fastest aging population on the planet is coping with what Lee Sung-hee, the South Korean Alzheimer's Association President, calls the coming Tsunami of Alzheimer's. The South Koreans are already dedicating over $1 billion to Alzheimer's care. And as the piece underscores, "with the over 65 populations jumping from 7% in 2000 to 14% in 2018 to 20% in 2026, Alzheimer's is straining the country, socially and economically." The connection between Alzheimer's and aging is clear, and dramatic, since statistically as we live past 65 the risk is 1 in 3, and as we live past 85, it becomes 1 in 2.
Ms. Belluck writes, "South Korea is at the forefront of a worldwide eruption of Alzheimer's, from about 30 million estimated cases now to over 100 million in 2050." That's not only true for South Korea, but for America as well--20% of our population will be 65 or older by 2030. In Europe and even China 33% and a whopping 25% respectively will be elderly by mid century. Nor are developing countries exempt: they comprise 71% of global Alzheimer's patients according to Alzheimer's Disease International's Global Report.
Considering that the increase in aging populations is the result of a demographic shift which affects future generations, the South Koreans--like the French, British, Canadians, Australians, Swedes and Japanese--have developed new public policies aligned to these new realities. The U.S., on the other hand, has no plan. Creating new care models, along with incentives for investing in medical treatment research, is a topic that we will be hearing much more about as the first of the Baby Boomers turns 65 in January.
Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Executive Director of The Global Coalition on Aging.