A shocking new report from the Alzheimer’s Association finds that one in three adults over 65 dies with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. The report reflects the scope of how degenerative neurological disease is affecting a rapidly aging population. According to the estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Dying with Alzheimer’s is not the same as dying from it though. But, even when dementia isn’t the direct cause of death, it can be the final blow, speeding someone’s decline by interfering with their care for heart disease, cancer or other serious illnesses.
“Exacerbated aging,” is how Dr. Maria Carrillo, an association vice president, terms the Alzheimer’s effect. “It changes any health care situation for a family.” In fact, only 30 percent of 70-year-olds who don’t have Alzheimer’s are expected to die before their 80th birthday. But if they do have dementia, 61 percent are expected to die, the report found.
Already, 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. Those numbers, predicts the report, will jump to 13.8 million by 2050. Counting just the deaths directly attributed to dementia, they are unfortunately growing fast. Nearly 85,000 people died from Alzheimer’s in 2011, the CDC estimated. Those are people who had Alzheimer’s disease listed as an underlying cause on a death certificate, perhaps because the dementia led to respiratory failure. That death rate has risen 39 percent in the past decade, even as the CDC found that deaths declined among some of the nation’s other top killers – heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. The reason: Alzheimer’s is the only one among the leading killers to have ineffective treatment. Today’s medications only temporarily ease some dementia symptoms.
This new report also highlights the toll dementia can take on caregivers and family members caring for loved ones who are suffering. In 2012, nearly 15.4 million caregivers provided more than 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care according to the association, valued at $216 billion. Nearly 15% of dementia caregiver live at least one hour away and incur double the out-of-pocket expenses of local caregivers.
Last year, the Obama administration set a goal of finding effective Alzheimer’s treatments by 2025, and increased research funding to help. It’s not clear how the government’s automatic sequester cuts, which began at the beginning of March, will affect those plans. But the report calculated that health and long-term care services will total $203 billion this year, much of that paid by Medicare and Medicaid and not counting unpaid care from family and friends. That tab is expected to reach $1.2 trillion by 2050, barring a research breakthrough, the report concluded.
“Alzheimer’s disease steals everything — steadily, relentlessly, inevitably. With baby boomers reaching the age of elevated risk, we do not have time to do what we have always done,” Robert Egge, Vice President of Public Policy for the Alzheimer’s Association, said in a statement. “The National Institutes of Health needs to reset its priorities and focus its resources on the crisis at our doorstep, and Congress must fully fund implementation of the National Alzheimer’s Plan to solve the crisis.”
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net