December 5, 2018
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 14 million Americans aged 65 and older will have Alzheimer’s disease or related forms of dementia by 2060. This projection underscores the need for new research into the underlying causes of the disease so that new treatments can be developed to cure, prevent or slow the course of the illness.
Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth leading cause of deaths among Americans 65 and older and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It is estimated that about 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, with more than a million experiencing mild cognitive impairment, a form of brain impairment that often precedes full-blown Alzheimer’s.
Since it is unknown for sure who will ultimately get the disease, estimates will vary on the number of Americans who will develop Alzheimer’s in the coming decades, which is why it is urgent that continuous research is needed to better understand the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s and, one day, to find a cure.
Current medications used to treat Alzheimer’s may ease the memory and thinking problems that are a hallmark of the illness for a time, but they do not stop the relentless downward progression of the disease. Since nobody knows for sure who will ultimately get the disease, estimates will continue to vary on the number of Americans who will develop Alzheimer’s in the coming decades.
To arrive at these recent estimates, researchers reviewed Medicare claims along with data from the U.S. Census Bureau. They estimated that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias would rise as the population ages, from 1.6% of the population today to 3.3% in 2060. By 2060, more than 72 million Americans will be 65 or older, and it is projected that 13.9 million of them will have received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease by that year.
The rate is projected to be particularly high in Hispanics and Blacks. Scientists aren’t sure why rates are higher in these groups, though they have higher rates of smoking, diabetes, obesity and other factors that can raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
“It is critical that older adults who are exhibiting symptoms of memory loss or cognitive decline seek an assessment and potential diagnosis from a health-care provider,” the researchers say. Experts believe that early diagnosis allows for better planning for families and patients, and that medications may also be most effective early in the course of the disease, before damage to the brain has become extensive.
Finally, the report calls attention to the growing burden of family members and other young adults who will serve as caregivers to someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s can lead to work and family disruptions and financial challenges. Caregivers also face an increased risk of stress, depression and other health problems, so better support is needed for the caregiver. Given the current population trends, there are seven potential young adult caregivers for each older person with Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is estimated that the number will decrease to one in four by 2060.
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: Kevin A. Matthews, Wei Xu, Anne H. Gaglioti, et al: “Racial and ethnic estimates of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in the United States (2015–2060) in adults aged 65 years or older.” Alzheimer’s and Dementia, September 2018.