As baby boomers age, the financial burden of Alzheimer’s disease on the United States will skyrocket from $307 billion annually to $1.5 trillion, a new analysis predicts.
Health policy researchers used models that incorporate trends in health, health care costs, education, and demographics to study the future impact of one of the costliest diseases on the nation’s population.
- From 2010 to 2050, the number of individuals aged 70+ with Alzheimer’s will increase by 153 percent, from 3.6 to 9.1 million.
- Annual per-person costs of the disease were $71,000 in 2010, which is expected to double by 2050.
- Medicare and Medicaid currently bear 75 percent of the costs of the disease.
“Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease with symptoms that gradually worsen over time. People don’t get better,” says Julie Zissimopoulos, assistant professor at the University of Southern California Price School of Public Policy.
“It is so expensive because individuals with Alzheimer’s disease need extensive help with daily activities provided by paid caregivers or by family members who may be taking time off of work to care for them, which has a double impact on the economy.
“In late stages of the disease,” she says, “they need help with personal care and lose the ability to control movement which requires 24-hour care, most often in an institutional setting.”
Delay Alzheimer’s onset
Published online in the journal Forum for Health Economics and Policy, the study shows that delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s even a little can yield major benefits—both in quality of life and in overall costs.
According to the US Census Bureau, in 2012, 43.1 million Americans were 65 and older, constituting 14 percent of the population. By 2050, that number will more than double to 83.7 million, constituting 21 percent of the population.
Medical advances that delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years add about 2.7 years of life for patients. By 2050, a five-year delay in onset results in a 41 percent lower prevalence of the disease in the population and lowers the overall costs to society by 40 percent, according to the team’s research.
“Our colleagues in the medical field are working on ways to understand how the disease interferes with brain processes—and then stop it,” Zissimopoulos says. “Investment in their work now could yield huge benefits down the line.”
Eileen Crimmins of the USC Davis School of Gerontology and Patricia St.Clair of the USC Schaeffer Center collaborated on the study. The National Institutes of Health provided funding.