Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=165094
Story Retrieval Date: 6/19/2013 6:47:29 PM CST
As baby boomers continue to age, care costs for patients with Alzheimer’s disease continue to increase.
By 2050, the price tag of Alzheimer’s disease care will skyrocket, according to a report recently released by the Alzheimer's Association. Cost of care is expected to increase from $172 billion per year in 2010 to more than $1 trillion per year in 2050. In all, the disease could cost the U.S. $20 trillion over the next few decades.
“We saw it coming. We knew the numbers were going to be high in the number of people getting the disease. We as an organization have been preparing for this,” said Nancy Rainwater, vice president of communications for the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Illinois chapter. “But to think of trillions of dollars…just the amount of money was pretty staggering.”
The statistics were figured using an analytical model based on data from research and national surveys.
Part of the problem lies in how successful treatment has become for other diseases, Rainwater said.
“We’re living longer, so that has a lot to do with it,” she said. “There has been so much work in other diseases – cancer, diabetes, heart disease – and people are surviving those diseases. But then there’s a higher risk, as people age, of getting Alzheimer’s. You look at statistics of those diseases, and the rates of death have all declined, whereas Alzheimer’s disease has increased.”
Experts say the number of Americans age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease will more than double to 13.5 million by 2050 as baby boomers age. By mid-century, nearly half of those with the disease will be in its most severe – and most expensive – stage.
“People in the earlier stages don’t necessarily need as much care or support,” said Darby Morhardt, social worker and research associate professor at Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center. “But as they deteriorate, as they decline, they have more and more difficulty managing their daily care, so that care needs to be provided by someone. Often that’s where most of the money is spent, on those last years.”
In calculating these costs, the report took into account all that pay for Alzheimer’s disease care, including Medicare, Medicaid, out-of-pocket funds from those with the disease and their families, and other payers, such as private insurance companies, health maintenance organizations and other managed care organizations, and uncompensated care.
“Having that staggering dollar amount is going to affect everyone, in health care costs, in Medicare costs, it will affect everybody,” Rainwater said.
But this trajectory can be changed with research, according to the Alzheimer’s Association report.
"Today, there are no treatments that can prevent, delay, slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease," said Alzheimer’s Association CEO and President Harry Johns in a statement. "While the ultimate goal is a treatment that can completely prevent or cure Alzheimer's, we can now see that even modest improvements can have a huge impact."
Just delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or slowing its progression, even slightly, would significantly reduce the high cost of care, Rainwater said. But funding is needed for research in those areas.
“We need to talk to our legislators and make sure they understand the importance of this disease, and that they understand the importance of these statistics,” she said. “That’s a huge part of it. The other thing that can greatly help is just making people aware so they understand the warning signs, so they know what they can do to keep your brain healthy. Those kinds of things can greatly impact the disease.”