Mental Health

Alzheimer's Treatment Costs Are Rising, As Are Associated Deaths, But Why?

According to the latest published data from the Alzheimer's Association, 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease today. By 2050, this number may almost triple as it is projected to rise to 14 million. The new report also draws attention to the sharp increase in both treatment costs and death rates linked to the disease.

For the second year in a row, total payments to care for those living with Alzheimer's and other dementias are projected to surpass a quarter of a trillion dollars and this year's figure shows an increase of nearly $20 billion over last year's. The estimated cost of care comes to $277 billion this year, not including unpaid caregiving. Of that amount, the report found $186 billion is the cost to Medicare and Medicaid, while $60 billion constituted out-of-pocket costs.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that deaths from Alzheimer’s increased by 55 percent between 1999 and 2014. The number is staggering, especially compared to how deaths from heart disease (which is the leading cause of death in the U.S.) have dropped by 11% in the same time frame. By weakening the immune system or leaving patients bedridden, the disease can prove fatal by increasing the risk of life-threatening infections and blood clots.

The report also noted that family caregivers who look after patients may face severely underreported threats to their physical, financial and emotional well-being. Seventy percent of the total lifetime cost it takes to care for Alzheimer's patients is borne by families. 

"This year's report illuminates the growing cost and impact of Alzheimer's on the nation's health care system, and also points to the growing financial, physical and emotional toll on families facing this disease," said Keith Fargo, who directs scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association. "Soaring prevalence, rising mortality rates and lack of an effective treatment all lead to enormous costs to society. Alzheimer's is a burden that's only going to get worse."

But why is the disease killing people more than ever before? Experts highlight the baby boomer population as well as improved mortality rates for other diseases. 

"Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease," said report author Christopher Taylor, who works as an epidemiologist with the CDC.

The aging population in the United States has been on the rise and they are the group most susceptible to the disease. Since medical advancements have helped more people survive heart disease and stroke, they live longer to reach the age when the risk of dementia rises dramatically.

Today, Alzheimer's is recognized as the 6th biggest cause of death among Americans. On the list of the top 10 causes of death in the country, it remains the only condition that can't be prevented, slowed or cured.

"We must continue to attack Alzheimer's through a multidimensional approach that advances research while also improving support for people with the disease and their caregivers," Fargo added.