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Published on: June 16, 2013
by Toi Williams for Health Aim:
The cost of treating and caring for people with dementia in the United States is expected to double by 2040, according to a new study. Some figures from the new research are staggering and carry new gravity because they come from an academic research effort. This was the most rigorous study conducted to date of the costs to care for Americans with dementia. The results of the study were published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The research study of the issue was led by an economist at the RAND Corporation and was financed by the federal government. This new study is considered the most reliable basis yet for measuring the scope of the issue. Most of the previously cited information regarding the cost and prevalence of the condition came from an advocacy group, the Alzheimer’s Association.
Some Alzheimer’s experts, like Dr. Ronald C. Petersen, have the sense that the country is unprepared for the coming surge in the cost and cases of dementia as the baby boom generation becomes seniors. Dr. Petersen is the director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic and is chairman of the advisory panel to the National Alzheimer’s Plan recently created by the federal government. Dr. Petersen was not involved in the RAND study, but is part of another team collecting data on dementia costs.
The financial burden of dementia is at least as high as that of cancer or heart disease and, in some cases, may be higher. Direct health care expenses for dementia, including nursing home care, were estimated at $109 billion in 2010, compared with $102 billion for heart disease and $77 billion for cancer. Informal care for dementia, usually provided by family members at home, ranged from $50 billion to $106 billion.
Experts are estimating that the number of people with dementia will more than double in the next 30 years. The results of the RAND study show that nearly 15 percent of people aged 71 or older have dementia. This totals about 3.8 million people who currently have the condition. By 2040, that number is expected to balloon to 9.1 million people. Of the study’s numbers, Dr. Petersen said, “They’re being somewhat conservative.”
This rate increase is rare for chronic conditions. Dr. Petersen commented, “It’s going to swamp the system.” Dr. Richard J. Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, said, “I don’t know of any other disease predicting such a huge increase. And as we have the baby boomer group maturing, there are going to be more older people with fewer children to be informal caregivers for them, which is going to intensify the problem even more.”
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