Yearly Cost of Alzheimer's Tops $200 Billion: Report

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured, or slowed.

According to 2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, released recently by the Alzheimer’s Association, caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the United States an estimated $200 billion in 2012. This includes $140 billion paid by Medicare and Medicaid.

Medicare payments for an older person with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are nearly three times higher and Medicaid payments 19 times higher than for seniors without Alzheimer’s and other dementias. With nearly 30 percent of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias on both Medicare and Medicaid, compared to 11 percent of individuals without these conditions, these costs will only continue to soar in the coming years given the projected rapidly escalating prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease as the baby boomers age.

An estimated 5.4 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Someone develops the disease every 68 seconds, and while the greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease is age, Alzheimer’s is not normal aging. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured, or slowed. Based on final mortality data from 2000-2008, 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 disease have risen 66 percent during the same period.

“Alzheimer’s is already a crisis and it’s growing worse with every year,” said Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Most people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias have one or more other serious chronic conditions and Alzheimer’s acts as a cost multiplier on these other diseases. Cognitive impairment complicates the management of care, resulting in more hospitalizations and longer hospital stays compared to individuals with the same conditions but no Alzheimer’s. For example, a senior with Alzheimer’s and diabetes costs Medicare 81 percent more than a senior with diabetes but no Alzheimer’s. Similarly, an older individual with cancer and Alzheimer’s costs Medicare 53 percent more than a beneficiary with cancer and no Alzheimer’s.

“This disease must be addressed on parallel tracks: supporting research to find treatments that cure, delay, or prevent the disease, and offering assistance and support to the more than 5 million Americans now living with Alzheimer’s and their more than 15 million caregivers,” said Johns.

The 2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures reports that an estimated 800,000 individuals have Alzheimer’s and live alone, and up to half of these individuals do not have an identifiable caregiver. On average, people with dementia who live alone in the community tend to be older, female, and less cognitively impaired.

People with dementia who live alone are at greater risk of jeopardized health than those who live with others, including greater risk of missed or delayed diagnosis and increased risk for malnutrition and untreated medical conditions. These individuals are also at increased risk of wandering away from home unattended and for accidental death, possibly due to lack of recognition of harmful situations and delays in seeking medical attention. People with Alzheimer’s disease who live alone often incur higher costs for home health care and non-physician outpatient services but lower costs for inpatient hospital services, hospice care, and prescription medications.

Full text of the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures can be viewed at www.alz.org. The full report will also appears in the March 2012 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

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