Number of Alzheimer's cases growing annually, increasing costs, report finds

The number of U.S. residents with Alzheimer's disease is increasing annually, putting more pressure on the health care system, according to a report issued on Tuesday by the Alzheimer's Association, USA Today reports (Brophy Marcus, USA Today, 3/24).

The report was based on 2004 data and included average Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance costs per person (Tanner, AP/Austin American-Statesman, 3/24). According to the report, 5.1 million U.S. residents older than age 65 have Alzheimer's. The report also found that about 2.7 million U.S. residents older than age 85 have the disease; however, the report estimated that the number will reach about 3.5 million in 2031, when the first wave of baby boomers reaches age 85.

Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death overall in the U.S. and the fifth-leading cause for U.S. residents older than age 65, the report states (USA Today, 3/24). From 2000 to 2006, deaths related to Alzheimer's increased by 47% while deaths due to heart disease, stroke, and breast and prostate cancer declined.

In addition, the report found that health care costs for U.S. residents with Alzheimer's are more than triple those of other older U.S. residents. The report stated that the cost per patient was at least $33,007 annually, compared with $10,603 annually for an older person who does not have Alzheimer's. The cost did not include the 8.5 billion hours of unpaid care for Alzheimer's patients performed by nearly 10 million caregivers -- mostly family members -- in 2008, according to the report. According to the AP/Austin American-Statesman, U.S. residents ages 65 and older with Alzheimer's are more often hospitalized and treated in skilled-nursing centers than those in the same age range who do not have Alzheimer's. The increased medical costs for Alzheimer's patients also often include nursing home care and Medicare-covered home health visits.

According to Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer of the Alzheimer's Association, the costs related to Alzheimer's likely have grown since the 2004 data because the population has aged and the number of Alzheimer's diagnoses has risen. Geiger said, "All of these statistics paint a really grim picture of what's going to happen ... unless we invest in solutions" to delay or prevent the disease (AP/Austin American-Statesman, 3/24). Bill Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association, said that the U.S. needs to find better treatment and prevention for the disease but noted that the government is "reducing dollars for Alzheimer's disease." Thies said, "Clearly, that's an equation going in the wrong direction" (USA Today, 3/24).

The report is available online (.pdf).


Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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