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The Pipeline

Alzheimer's Association Releases Data Highlighting the Ramifications of a Growing Epidemic

The management of neurological diseases has increasingly become a concern for hospitals, especially as they develop more expansive models of care that involve outpatient, clinic-based centers. In response, the Technology Insights neuroscience team has been looking closely at the development of these sorts of clinics and what role they play in a hospitals' neuroscience service line. Among the diseases being targeted by programs is Alzheimer's, a condition whose prevalence in this country is only now just being understood.

Today, new data was published that demonstrates the huge extent Alzheimer's disease in this country. My colleague, Katherine Rief, has been looking closely at Alzheimer's specifically and offers her comments on this new dataset below:

Currently there are an estimated 5.4 million people living with Alzheimer's disease (AD) in the United States. Approximately 1 in 8 adults over the age of 65 have Alzheimer's and that proportion jumps to nearly 1 in 2 for those over 85 years of age. Despite these alarming statistics, there is currently no cure for AD and even slowing disease progression and managing symptoms has proven to be a difficult challenge. In a newly released report "2011 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures", the Alzheimer's Association presents data illustrating the rising impact of AD on patients, caregivers and the American health system.

One of the most distressing findings presented in "Facts and Figures" is the unbridled growth of AD in past years and projected future increases in prevalence. While other leading causes of death in the U.S. such as stroke, heart disease, and breast cancer are decreasing at varying rates, death from Alzheimer's disease has shown rapid growth at a staggering rate of 66% from 2000-2008. These patients cost the US healthcare system an estimated $183 billion dollars annually. Healthcare costs for Alzheimer's patients are especially high as the disease usually necessitates a long-term care environment and none of the available treatment options offer a cure.

In addition to data focusing on patients and disease progression, the Alzheimer's Association also sheds light on the predicament of caregivers especially those friends and family providing unpaid home care. In 2010, an estimated 15 million unpaid caregivers provided approximately 17 billion hours of unpaid care for patients living with dementia. Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's can be an extremely stressful event. This report notes these elevated stress levels contribute to diminished mental and physical health for the caregiver. Caregivers are more likely to suffer from depression and their ailments add significant costs to the healthcare system. Ongoing efforts aim to reduce the burden on unpaid caregivers by diagnosing patients early in disease progression and providing the patients and family with access to support services.  Accurate and early diagnosis has been particularly problematic since a full cognitive work-up is too time-consuming and expensive for a routine check-up. Primary care physicians generally only test for dementia if a patient or family member expresses concern. Once dementia is a suspected diagnosis, it is still difficult to differentiate between types of dementia as there is no definitive clinical diagnostic test. Future applications of CT scans and fMRI in diagnostic imaging for AD are promising, but more research is needed before these modalities can be used clinically.