2013 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures: Report predicts sharp rise in number affected

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Incidence and prevalence of Alzheimer’s and other dementias are projected to surge, according to the Alzheimer’s Association report “2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.”

Currently, Alzheimer’s affects one in every nine people age 65 or older – roughly 5 million people, although under-diagnosis means that as many as half don’t know it. Prevalence increases with age – one-third to one-half of those over age 85 have Alzheimer’s.

As more baby boomers become seniors, incidence is expected to rapidly increase. Risk doubles for every five years in age after age 65, according to the National Institutes of Health. Twice as many people have Alzheimer’s today as in 1980 and the rate is expected to double by 2050 to an estimated 16 million adults. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States among all adults, and is fifth on the list for those over 65. According to the CDC, more than 83,000 people died of Alzheimer’s last year – or 27 per 100,000.

Alzheimer’s is one of a group of conditions known as dementias. Dementia occurs when brain neurons break down, resulting in memory loss, behavioral and cognitive changes. It’s a costly disease too – the Alzheimer’s Association report estimates that $203 billion in direct costs (health services and institutional care) will be spent on the disease this year, including $142 billion in Medicare and Medicaid expenses. Even scarier is the projected cost increase of 500 percent by 2050 – which works out to $1.2 trillion.

The toll on caregivers – usually family members – is also devastating. If you attended the Health Journalism 2013 presentation on “The growing complication of coordinating senior care,” you heard the panelists discuss the complexity and emotional toll of caregiving, particularly among long-distance caregivers. Another conference presentation on “The drive toward earlier Alzheimer’s treatment” featured a fascinating look at how researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston are trying to stave off Alzheimer’s in asymptomatic adults with a specific protein marker in their brains.

For more information on the role of caregiving for seniors, check out our tip sheet on caregiving and aging by writers Judith Graham and Eileen Beal; another tip sheet by Beal offers more specifics about this disease.

Even if you have never covered Alzheimer’s disease, the Association’s report may be a good document to keep on hand. In addition to the numbers, it includes explanations of various other dementias, a recap of current knowledge, and additional stats on mortality, caregiving and costs. As more people move into the gray market, this is a topic that will take on increasing importance. It impacts health services, primary and specialty physicians, long-term care, the role of caregivers and we need to be asking how our society will care for this aging group of boomers.