Alzheimer’s Association Report Highlights Increases in Disease Prevalence and Cost of Care

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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The total cost to care for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is projected to surpass a quarter of a trillion dollars in 2018 for the second consecutive year, according to a report from the Alzheimer’s Association.

The organization’s recently released 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures also reports that the number of deaths related to the disease have more than doubled, increasing by 123 percent between 2000 and 2015, while deaths from other causes have decreased.

An accompanying special piece, “Alzheimer’s Disease: Financial and Personal Benefits of Early Diagnosis,” highlights new economic modeling data showing that early Alzheimer’s diagnosis during the mild cognitive impairment stage could save as much as $7.9 trillion in health expenses. It also emphasizes the potential personal benefits of early diagnosis for patients and their families.

“Discoveries in science mean fewer people are dying at an early age from heart disease, cancer and other diseases,” Keith Fargo, PhD, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association, said in a press release. “Similar scientific breakthroughs are needed for Alzheimer’s disease, and will only be achieved by making it a national health care priority and increasing funding for research that can one day lead to early detection, better treatments and ultimately a cure.”

As the American population grows, so does the number of people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. The report estimates that by 2050, the total cost to care for Alzheimer’s patients will increase to more than $1.1 trillion — about four times the amount estimated for 2018.

In 2017, it was estimated that 16 million Americans provided 18.4 billion hours of unpaid care in the form of physical, emotional, and financial support. The difficulties associated with providing this type of care are estimated to have resulted in $11.4 billion in additional costs to caregivers.

“This year’s report illuminates the growing cost and impact of Alzheimer’s on the nation’s health care system, and also points to the growing financial, physical and emotional toll on families facing this disease,” Fargo said.

Identification of biomarkers will be critical to improving diagnosis and treatments for Alzheimer’s. These biomarkers are transforming the way the disease is perceived in the scientific and medical communities from a diagnosis based on symptoms to a diagnosis based on changes in the brain.

Due to the development of beta-amyloid imaging biomarkers and other advances, Alzheimer’s diagnosis can occur earlier in the disease progression during the mild cognitive impairment stage instead of waiting until after significant brain damage has already occurred.

According to the report, diagnosis during this early stage would result in a cost savings of at least $7.9 trillion over the lifetime of all Americans living today.

Earlier diagnosis is also associated with individual savings. In today’s context, in which diagnosis usually occurs in the dementia stage, the projected health and long-term care costs of an Alzheimer’s patient is $424,000.

In an earlier diagnosis scenario, the average cost per person would decrease to $360,000 — a savings of $64,000 per individual.

Other benefits of early diagnosis include more accurate diagnoses; time to adopt healthier lifestyles to help preserve existing cognitive function and physical fitness for as long as possible; increased chances of participating in clinical trials; more time to plan for the future; and emotional and social benefits, including the opportunity to spend more time engaging in meaningful activities and interacting with those who are most important.

The report further highlights that:

  • An estimated 5.7 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s. By 2025, that number is expected to increase to 7.1 million.
  • Two-thirds of Americans over the age of 65 with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Every 65 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s — by 2050, that rate will increase to 33 seconds.
  • Nearly 50 percent of all caregivers in the U.S. provide help for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
  • Approximately two-thirds of caregivers are women, and one-third are daughters.

Compiled annually since 2007, the facts and figures report is an official publication of the Alzheimer’s Association. The special piece, “Alzheimer’s Disease: Financial and Personal Benefits of Early Diagnosis,” can be found when downloading the full “2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures” report.