Nearly one-fourth of Medicare spending in 2040 will go toward treating patients with Alzheimer's, a new study warns, unless new treatment options and therapies are discovered.
The report, released this week by the Alzheimer's Association, notes that only about 1.2% of baby boomers are expected to have Alzheimer's by 2020. However, the report estimates 28 million baby boomers will develop the disease in their lifetimes, and about 50% of surviving boomers are expected to contract it by 2050.
Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association, says that as people live longer, treating Alzheimer's becomes more complex and costly. "Many people end up in long-term care or nursing homes and require around-the-clock care for many years," he explains. "This isn't like you get a heart attack and you pass away. You get this degenerative disease and it requires that you get care for many years."
David Knopman, a Mayo Clinic neurologist and vice-chair of the Alzheimer's Association Medical and Scientific Advisory Council says, "I think the crisis that will occur as our population grows and ages is real, and although the numbers look like they possibly couldn't be true, they are."
More funding needed
Yet Maria Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer's Association, argues funding for Alzheimer's research is inadequate compared with monetary support for other high-profile diseases such as heart disease and cancer. "Public funding for this research is extremely limited compared to the magnitude of the problem," she says.
New test may show Alzheimer's symptoms 18 years before diagnosis
Another report for the Alzheimer's Association released earlier this year found that—if discovered—a new treatment that delays the onset of the disease could save $220 billion in its first five years. The number of people with Alzheimer's disease by 2050 would also drop 42%.
But people concerned about developing the disease don't necessarily need to wait for a medical breakthrough. "There is good research now we're seeing that lifestyle changes may make a difference," Fargo says. He notes that while the research isn't "certain," staying physically active, not smoking, and keeping cholesterol low "will have a positive effect on preserving your memory and ability to think" (Thompson, HealthDay/U.S. News & World Report, 7/20; Nachemson, Washington Times, 7/20).
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