Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million Americans. It’s the fifth leading cause of death in the United States overall, and care costs for Alzheimer’s patients exceed $200 billion. But somehow the government hasn’t made research into this disease a top priority.
Facts about Alzheimer’s
In a year’s time, Alzheimer’s affects more people than cancer, heart disease and AIDS combined. As the infographic shows, only heart disease, the country’s number one cause of death, tops it in terms of annual care costs. (Heart disease costs are $264 billion; Alzheimer’s are $203 billion.)
Alzheimer’s falls not only among the top 10 causes of death in the country, but it’s the fifth leading cause of death for people aged 65 and over. In fact, one in every three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
Over the next decade, cases of Alzheimer’s are projected to increase by 40 percent, barring a medical breakthrough. Yet the U.S. government spends less than one percent of its budget on Alzheimer’s research.
If research dollars remain unavailable, Alzheimer’s will affect nearly 14 million seniors by the year 2050, nearly triple the number of people it affects today.
Alzheimer’s Compared to Other Major Diseases
Death Rates From Alzheimer’s On the Rise
Between 2000 and 2010, death rates from Alzheimer’s disease increased 68 percent, as the infographic illustrates. However, deaths from other major diseases (cancer, heart disease and AIDS) decreased during that time.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is unique in that it has no cure and no way to slow its progression.
Government Costs for Alzheimer’s
Nearly 30 percent of people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are on Medicare and Medicaid, compared to 11 percent of people not suffering from these diseases. Per-person Medicare costs for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are triple that of people without Alzheimer’s. Per-person Medicaid costs are 19 times higher.
It’s clear that research into treatment and prevention could help lower costs for the country. That’s just speaking in financial terms.
Alzheimer’s Caregiver Costs
Family caregivers often give their time for no pay. In 2012, over 15 million caregivers provided more than 17 billion hours of care for no money. Those caregiving hours were valued at $216 billion.
And caregivers often suffer ill health as a result of their caregiving duties. According to the Caregiver Action Network, stress associated with caring for a person with dementia increases a caregiver’s chances of developing a chronic illness. They don’t go to the doctor when they should, tend to have poor eating habits and exercise less than they did before becoming caregivers.
Investing More in Alzheimer’s Research
Alzheimer’s is mysterious. We don’t know what causes it, and we can’t stop it. Some suggest that if it doesn’t affect a family, the family assumes it’s not their problem.
But a recent article in USA Today explains why this isn’t true. Those high Medicare and Medicaid costs affect anyone who pays federal taxes. If that isn’t enough, the statistics indicate that this disease will soon touch a far greater number of families in the near future.
Advocacy and involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association and similar groups can help lead to achievements in research. Until members of congress make Alzheimer’s a priority, however, chances are strong that the costs to the nation will continue to soar.
Making phone calls, writing letters, visiting with congress people and sharing personal stories would be a good step toward drawing attention to the need for Alzheimer’s research funding. It won’t be easy or immediate. Nonetheless, showing politicians the personal side of Alzheimer’s can inspire them to make it a top priority.