April 21, 2008
About one in six female and one in 10 male baby boomers or more than 10 million people overall are expected to come down with Alzheimer's disease in the coming decades, a new report claims. The survey, conducted by the Alzheimer's Association, highlights the growing burden of Alzheimer's on the nation's health care system as the American population continues to grow older.
Overall, some one in eight boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are expected to suffer the memory loss, poor thinking and other symptoms of dementia as they hit their 60s, 70s and older. This year, the oldest baby boomers are turning 62, with millions more to follow in the years to come. The risk of developing Alzheimer's disease doubles every five years after age 65.
Today, more than five million men and women in the United States are living with Alzheimer's disease, with more than 400,000 new cases diagnosed each year. If no cure is found, there will be an estimated 450,000 new cases per year by 2010, and nearly a million a year by 2050.
The toll of Alzheimer's reaches far beyond those directly affected by the disease. The report notes that seven in 10 people with Alzheimer's live at home, where they are cared for by family members and others. This unpaid family time contributes some 8.4 billion hours of unpaid help to assist in care. Sons, daughters, brothers and sisters of those with Alzheimer's must often travel considerable distances, at great cost, to assist in the care of loved ones with the disease. For nearly a third of family caregivers, services are required for five years or longer, requiring sacrifices to work and career, another hidden cost of the disease.
Although Medicare covers most hospital expenses, families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's at home are often left on their own. As Alzheimer's progresses, the demands of care grow exponentially. Many families must hire home health workers to assist with care, with home care costing more than $150 per eight-hour shift, and much higher in many parts of the country. Eventually, most people with Alzheimer's must enter a nursing home or assisted-living facility, costing thousands of dollars per month.
The average hourly rate for home health aides in 2007 was $19 per hour. Adult day centers cost on average about $61 a day. Assisted living centers averaged about $3,000 per month, with specialized dementia centers adding an additional $1,100 to that cost. Nursing homes, the most costly, cost nearly $78,000 per year on average. In many areas of the country, costs can be considerably higher.
If you live to age 55, women are nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's as men. Part of womens' increased risk occurs because they tend to live longer than men overall. Age remains the greatest risk factor for the disease, with more and more people in their 70s, 80s and older succumbing to Alzheimer's.
Alzheimer's is the most common cause of severe memory loss in the elderly, accounting for some 60 to 80 percent of cases of dementia. In addition to the 10 million boomers expected to come down with Alzheimer's disease in coming decades, another 4 million will suffer from vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and other ailments affecting memory and judgment, researchers estimate.
The findings highlight the enormous cost, both in dollars and in emotional wear-and-tear that Alzheimer's takes on young and old alike. Unless a cure is found, the burden of the disease in coming decades will grow more enormous.
The Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation continues to fund vital research into the causes of the disease and the search for a cure. To learn more and to make a donation, and a difference, visit www.ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer's Information Site.
Alzheimer's Association, "2008 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures."