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The Hidden Costs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer's Health Costs

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are estimated to cost $290 billion dollars a year in the United States, and more than a trillion dollars worldwide, making it one of the costliest diseases for society at large. But those costs are just the tip of the iceberg, according to a new analysis.

Experts in the United States, Canada, Spain and Britain reviewed studies of the economic impact of dementia and found that while costs of treatment and patient care are high, there are many hidden costs associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Among the additional costs cited in the report, which was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease:

*Those who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to develop other health problems, such as anxiety or depression, as the result of care-related stress. They may also develop medical conditions such as high blood pressure. All of these conditions can be costly to treat.

*Families are often forced to cut back on their spending or to dip into savings in order to support their loved ones.

*Alzheimer’s disease can take years to diagnose, and may require expensive tests to rule out other conditions.

*Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to adequately care for other medical problems they may have, which drives up the cost of care.

*People with Alzheimer’s disease, and those who care for them, typically have a reduced quality of life; while it’s hard to put a cost figure on impaired quality of life, those costs should be factored in, the authors say.

Dr. Alireza Atri, a corresponding author of the study and Director of the Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Arizona, said: “Our analysis strongly supports that current estimates fail to recognize the true costs of the diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, that cause dementia. Some studies have estimated that out of pocket expenses for people with dementia are up to one third of their household wealth in the final five years of their life, and that caregivers have health care costs that are twice as high as non-caregivers. We also found evidence that costs begin rising up to 10 years prior to diagnosis.”

Professor Clive Ballard, Executive Dean at the University of Exeter Medical School, noted that “Dementia is a complex condition that often occurs with additional “co-morbid” physical and mental health conditions. To calculate the true needs for people with dementia and the true cost, we must also consider key co-morbidities such as falls, fractures, frailty and the increased risk of infections as well as mental health conditions such as depression, agitation and psychosis. These are huge issues in terms of both high cost and devastating impact on individuals, and they must be considered holistically. The full toll of dementia further highlights the urgency to take global action now.”

By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Source: Youssef H. El-Hayek, Ryan E. Wiley, Charles P. Khoury, et al: “Tip of the Iceberg: Assessing the Global Socioeconomic Costs of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias and Strategic Implications for Stakeholders.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Volume 70, Issue 2, July 2019.

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