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January 27th, 2011
05:37 PM ET

Alzheimer's called 'defining disease' of baby boomers

As any family who has gone through it can tell you, Alzheimer's disease is tragic on a number of levels.  Once vibrant men and women become shells of the people they once were.  Not only do memories fade, there also is anger.  And loneliness.  Former first lady Nancy Reagan famously referred to it as "the long goodbye."

As the first baby boomers turn 65 this year, a new report suggests they will be especially hit hard.  One out of eight boomers will develop the disease, according to the report released by the Alzheimer's Association.  That comes to about 10 million people.  Of those who reach 85, nearly one in two will get it.  "Alzheimer's is a tragic epidemic that has no survivors.  It is as much a thief as a killer," says Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association, in a press release.

Currently Alzheimer's disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.  Each year, it kills more Americans than breast and prostate cancer combined.  Last year, Alzheimer's and other forms of dementias cost families, insurers and the government $172 billion.  In 2050, researchers estimate, it will cost more than $1 trillion.

There is currently no treatment or cure for Alzheimer's.  Officials with the Alzheimer's Association say it's time for the government to start spending more to fund research.  They point to the money spent on cancer and AIDS and the strides made in treatment.

"When the federal government has been focused, committed and willing to put the necessary resources to work to confront a disease that poses a real public health threat to the nation – there has been great success," says Robert. J. Egge, vice president of public policy of the Alzheimer’s Association.  "In order to see the day where Alzheimer’s is no longer a death sentence, we need to see that type of commitment with Alzheimer’s."

For more about Alzheimer's disease, click here.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.