Report: Yearly cost of Alzheimer's tops $200 billion
March 8th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Report: Yearly cost of Alzheimer's tops $200 billion

Caring for the estimated 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease is not just a medical crisis, it's also an economic one according to a new report released Thursday.  The Alzheimer's Association's "2012 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures" finds that the cost of caring for patients with Alzheimer's and other dementias will total $200 billion this year and is projected to increase to $1.1 trillion a year by 2050.

"That is real money, even in government terms," says Dr. William Thies, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer with the Alzheimer's Association.

"It's unsustainable, we can't pay that, and if we get to that stage [of $1.1 trillion in costs per year], we just won't be able to take care of people."

Medicare and Medicaid currently pay roughly 70% of the costs associated with caring for Alzheimer's patients, which adds up to $140 billion.  But those costs do not include treating the many other chronic conditions these patients often have, some of which can be exacerbated by having this form of dementia. For example, the report says a senior with Alzheimer's and diabetes costs Medicare 81% more than a senior citizen who only has diabetes.

Dementia can also inhibit a person's ability to manage their other conditions and that additional complication can also drive up related costs.

"If you take a person with undiagnosed cognitive impairment, they'll get information [from their doctor], go home, and then forget it all," says Thies.

"And then the person is next seen in a [medical] crisis and there's a lot of intensive high-tech therapy that has to be delivered."

Compounding that, the Alzheimer's Association estimates that one of every seven patients, or 800,000 people, who have Alzheimer's lives alone and up to half of them don't have an identifiable caregiver.

"Frequently people who fall in to this category... don't have a diagnosis," says Thies. "The numbers are daunting."

At the same time, the number of caregivers is equally staggering. According to the report, there are 15.2 million family members and friends of Alzheimer's patients caring for more than 4 million people with the disease.  Those caregivers provide 17.4 billion hours of unpaid care valued at more than $200 billion dollars.

"The best piece of advice I would give to [a caregiver] is to get informed about the disease," says Thies. "Educate yourself because people who know about the disease do better.  And a close second to that is look for help. It's natural human nature to say – this is my problem, my family, so I'm going to deal with this – but we know help is really critical."

Of the ten most common causes of death in the United States, Alzheimer's is the only one for which there is no cure or means of prevention.  The Alzheimer's Association says someone is diagnosed with the disease every 68 seconds. And while there is no definitive evidence that brain games and mental stimulation can protect the brain from Alzheimer's, Dr. Gary Small, Director of UCLA's Longevity Center, says there are non-genetic factors that may influence whether someone develops dementia.

"Choices we make every day have a major impact on how our brains age," says Small. "In fact, physical exercise probably has the most compelling evidence that it can lower the risk of Alzheimer's."

"We're not saying that we can definitely prevent it in everyone, but the goal is to stave off the symptoms, sometimes for years, and for many people, that may mean never getting the symptoms in their lifetime."

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Betty P

    We need to do everything we can to fight Alzheimer's! I firmly believe that exercise and diet changes (like lower carbs, certain types of fish) can help possibly slow down the onset. There is so much recent research on this, and my husband and I follow 'theadplan'. We need a CURE SOON but in the meantime we can all do things to reduce our risk, donate to the Alz Association, and help the 15 million caregivers with respite care.

    March 8, 2012 at 00:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anna

      All Alzheimer's can be reversed in many people by using a specialized diabetes diet. This was proven in Scandinavia News. You may not have diabetes but Alzheimer's is related to blood sugar. Alzheimer's and diabetes has risen at the same exact level over the last 30 years. A specialized diabetes diet in Denmark was shown to improve memory in Dementia and Alzheimer's sufferers.
      Just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

      March 9, 2012 at 07:08 | Report abuse |
  2. MichaelEDuncan

    Healthcare is not subject to normal market forces! Anything that you have to buy at any random moment in order not to die is not something to which a rational supply/demand calculus can apply. Check out "Penny Health" articles on how to reduce the cost of insurance.

    March 8, 2012 at 00:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Julnor

    Is the real issue here that we have figured out how to keep people alive long enough so that they eventually get Alzheimer's? A prime example of why health care costs keep going up. Dead people tend not to use a lot of healthcare.

    March 8, 2012 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Frank

    I say we should start taxing the hell out of people who are likely to have Alzheimers!! That's what they do to people who smoke.

    March 8, 2012 at 09:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeff

      Sir, this is a very dumb thing to say.

      March 8, 2012 at 09:56 | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Wow great compassion! I sure hope you never have to be a care-partner.

      March 13, 2012 at 13:25 | Report abuse |
  5. Jeff

    We are spending so much money on wars that we none left over for compassionate health care. The 2011 costs for Iraq and Afghanistan would just about cover this.

    March 8, 2012 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mike Donohue

    I have Alzheimer's Disease, diagnosed 6 years ago. I work hard at what is called the BEST PRACTICES: Eat Right, Exercise Daily, Get Involved in Stimulating Intellectual, Social and Creative Activity. I have retained much of my cognition, my memory, I read and I write up a storm. This article says::THERE IS NO CURE OR MEANS OF PREVENTION. This suggests without saying: THERE IS NOTHING TO BE DONE FOR IT! This is misleading. The Best Practices, taking available medication that helps and many available programs that can be conducted will prolong folks in the earlier stages where the Cost of Care is not incurred. This is necessary because time is needed along with money to Find the Cure.

    March 8, 2012 at 10:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Betty P

      I admire your courage, Mike. Kudos to you and keep up the fight and keep spreading this message.

      March 8, 2012 at 12:42 | Report abuse |
    • aa

      I question your diagnosis.....honestly no 100 percent confirmation is possible short of a brain biopsy.

      March 8, 2012 at 18:27 | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Keep up the fight, and aa, you don't know what you are talking about.

      March 13, 2012 at 13:26 | Report abuse |
  7. Debbie

    I know this disease all too well and have experienced first hand all the different stages/phases/extensive medical care a person with this disease encounters. It's real, sad, scary, and divastating. Sharing the responsibilities as a careprovider with my Mother caring for my Father who suffered with Alzheimer for roughly 12 years before it took his last breathe of life in 2009. I refuse to waste my breathe on stupid comments of uneducated people about Alzheimer's disease. I am thankful every day for the support system that my Mother and I were able to lean upon for help. Mike, I wish you all the best and enjoy each moment of life! I support this organization 100 Plus%. And, I pray for all those who suffer from the disease as well as for their family members. I would not wish this disease on my worst enemy! You never know, it just might happen on its own to you in a matter of seconds and you probably wouldn't know what hit you!

    March 8, 2012 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Meg

    My husband's autopsy showed that he had 'fairly advanced Alzheimer's'. He was very active; ran his own business. We played Scrabble until the day he went into the hospital. His three sisters were all diagnosed with the disease. His youngest sister, still living, has reverted to that of a 2 year old. Alzheimer's is inherited. We need to find a cure. Dr. Thies is doing great research. He needs additional funding.

    March 8, 2012 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. mental health

    Dont' worry- welfare will end, food stamps, any support survices for anyone under 65.
    All our money will go to the cost of this terrible disease. With 70 thousand people turning 65 every day for the next 18 years- we will have 80 million baby boomers.
    I predict people with alzheimers walking the streets and being homeless. This is going to get very ugly unless we can get stem cells into the brain. Stem cells is the cure of the future. Of course, then people will live longer than ever and that may be another issue.

    March 8, 2012 at 19:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Bill Rhodes

    High iron has been implicated with developing Alzheimer's, and there is a new MRI that can "see" iron in your brain before you are symptomatic. Google around on iron and Alzheimer's and you'll see... Iron may turn out to be a major cause of this disease.

    Doctors rarely test for ferritin (stored iron) in routine blood work, and normally don't treat high iron unless the numbers are dramatically raised. This really should change, as the fix for high iron is an easy one. Blood donation! The fastest way to dump excess iron.

    Get thee to a blood bank!

    March 8, 2012 at 19:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Anise

    This is why we desperately need to support stem cell research. The results from the first phase of the very first stem cell study on human beings have just come out. That is disgusting when stem cells have been known for 13 years, and research could have started immediately! The preliminary results are amazing, but they are very early ones, and they're related to the retina. Who knows how long it'll be before cognitive treatments are available? We could already HAVE them if Bush hadn't vetoed the stem cell bill twice (it was passed twice by a bipartisan congress!) It was impossible to get FDA approval until the bill was approved by Obama. And it's not about funding.... a private company has funded the retinal study 100%. They could do nothing without approval.

    We all have to get together and support stem cell research!! The life you save may be your own.

    March 8, 2012 at 22:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JLS639

      Nothing in stem cell research has shown any promise in fighting Alzheimer's disease. It barely works on a certain few mouse models that we know will develop conditions that in some ways resemble Alzheimer's provided you start treatment at a stage before Dementia of the Alzheimer's Type is ever diagnosed in humans. Stem cells cannot grow new axons in the brain to their targets. Embryonic stem cells have only shown real promise in treating localized probelms (e.g., demyelination in the brain) or blood and endocrine diseases.

      It is conceivable one day ESC's could help treat Alzheimer's some way, but there is currently no indications they will.

      March 8, 2012 at 23:53 | Report abuse |
  12. larry5

    Obamacare will do away with this expense.

    March 9, 2012 at 04:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Anna

    All Alzheimer's can be reversed in many people by using a specialized diabetes diet. This was proven in Scandinavia. You may not have diabetes but Alzheimer's is related to blood sugar. Alzheimer's and diabetes has risen at the same exact level over the last 30 years. A specialized diabetes diet in Denmark was shown to improve memory in Dementia and Alzheimer's sufferers.
    Just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

    March 9, 2012 at 07:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Gillian Eadie

    Physical exercise and brain training both correlate significantly with improved brain resilience in older age. Building new brain connections while the brain is healthy (from age 50+) is the best available defence against dementia. A brisk 20 minute walk a day is a great start and why not try a 6-day Brain Tune course which comes to you free from the Brain and Memory Foundation. Every baby boomer needs to take individual responsibility for protecting themselves against Alzheimer's and other memory loss conditions.

    March 10, 2012 at 20:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. megan

    There is a great book everyone should read called "International Meat Crisis". It has some very scary and interesting facts about Alzheimer's disease. You can find a copy on Amazon for like $2

    March 10, 2012 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. assistedlivingeve

    Great article on this subject. They really need to find a cure!

    April 11, 2012 at 18:06 | Report abuse | Reply
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