How about this scary prediction: the cumulative cost for caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease in the next 40 years could exceed $20 trillion. That’s according to a new Alzheimer’s Association report, “Changing the Trajectory of Alzheimer’s Disease: A National Imperative.”
The report analyzes data based on a model created by the Lewin Group. The model allows the report’s authors to describe two alternative trajectories – one current and one hypothetical -- that focus on how scientific advances could result in treatments that change the course of Alzheimer’s disease. The report focuses on the years 2010 to 2050 and uses estimates of the number of Americans age 65 and older who will have Alzheimer’s, the number of people who will be at the various stages of the disease (mild, moderate, and severe), and the cost of their care.
If nothing changes in treatments available to people with Alzheimer’s, the report predicts that the number of people with Alzheimer’s will increase from 5.1 million in 2010 to 13.5 million in 2050. Because of this tremendous increase, annual Medicare costs are projected to increase from $34 billion currently to $178 billion by 2050. The reasoning behind these predictions is the number of people who will have reached the severe stage of Alzheimer’s, thus requiring intensive, expensive care.
“Currently, there are no known treatments to prevent, cure or even delay the onset or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” the report states. “The five medications that are approved for Alzheimer’s disease by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) temporarily reduce symptoms for some, but they cannot change the underlying course of the disease. Clearly, the ultimate goal is to have treatments that completely prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – eventually resulting in a world without these conditions.”
The report’s authors note that finding a modest breakthrough treatment for Alzheimer’s could significantly reduce these projected costs. If this breakthrough happened, the report noted that onset of this disease could be postponed by five years; thus, the number of Americans ages 65 and older who had Alzheimer’s would be reduced from 5.6 million currently to 4 million in 2020. If this happened, a domino effect is projected to happen, including:
- Forty-three percent of the 13.5 million Americans who are projected to have Alzheimer’s by 2050 would be free of it.
- Only 3.5 million (instead of the anticipated 6.5 million) people would be in the severe stage of Alzheimer’s by 2050.
- Savings to Medicare and Medicaid would greatly increase. The report projects that annual Medicare savings would be $33 billion in 2020 and $283 billion by 2050. Medicaid savings would increase from $9 billion in 2020 to $79 billion in 2050.
This report provides a compelling argument for why we need to aggressively fund research that will ultimately develop breakthrough drugs to stop Alzheimer’s. We need to look at a variety of financial sources – federal funds for research, foundation grants, and donations from individuals – in order to maximize researchers’ efforts. Together, we can find a solution to stop this terrible disease.