By Janice Lloyd
A new government-funded report confirms what advocacy groups have been warning for years: The number of people in the USA with Alzheimer's disease will almost triple by 2050, straining the health care system and taxing the health of caregivers.
Numbers are projected to rise from about 5 million now to 13.8 million. The disease robs people of their memory, erases personality and makes even routine tasks like dressing and bathing impossible.
"We're going to need coordinated efforts for this upcoming epidemic,'' says lead author Jennifer Weuve, assistant professor of medicine at Rush Institute for Healthy Aging in Chicago. "People have trouble getting their heads around these numbers, but imagine if everyone in the state of Illinois (population 12.8 million) had Alzheimer's. I look around Chicago and can't imagine it.''
The study is published Wednesday in the journalNeurology. Researchers analyzed information from 10,802 black and white Chicago residents, ages 65 and older, from 1993 to 2011. Participants were interviewed and assessed for dementia every three years. Age, race and level of education were factored into the research. The projections are similar to a study done 10 years ago but include new data from the 2010 Census about death rates and future population rates. An upcoming study will examine the effect on health care costs, which are expected to exceed $2 trillion, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
"These numbers are more credible because they involve new Census data,'' says Dallas Anderson, director of population studies and epidemiology of Alzheimer's disease at the National Institute on Aging. "If you know anyone who has Alzheimer's disease now, you know how dire this projection is for the nation.''
The three-fold increase is largely the result of the aging Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. The main risk for Alzheimer's is age. The population of people 65 and older is expected to more than double from 40.3 million to 88.5 million, according to the 2010 Census.
"We've had great success in this country when we've decided to focus on a condition,'' Weuve says. "We've done it with good research in heart disease, cancer and HIV, but we are in our infancy when it comes to Alzheimer's research."
Alzheimer's is the only disease among the top six killers in the USA for which there is no prevention, cure or treatment. The government boosted funding last year and made prevention a 2025 goal. Funding for the disease was $606 million -- exceeding $500 million for the first time in 2012. But it trails other diseases: HIV at $3 billion and cancer at $6 billion. An additional $100 million for Alzheimer's research for 2013 is awaiting approval, the Alzheimer's Association says.
"We need to put the pedal to the metal on research,'' says George Vradenburg, chairman of USAgainstAlzheimers, an advocacy group. "We need to find a way to prevent this terrible disease."
Former president RonaldReagan, who left office in 1989, disclosed in 1994 that he had Alzheimer's. Others include Robert Sargent Shriver, actress Rita Hayworth and singer Glen Campbell. In 2011, the University of Tennessee's legendary women's basketball coach Pat Summitt revealed she has Alzheimer's.
The study was financed by the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health and the Alzheimer's Association.
"There is great urgency for meaningful, timely and comprehensive action," says Maria Carrillo, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer's Association.