Real costs of Alzheimer’s disease

Published 11:15 am Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Recently I discussed the outlook for a potential drug being used in conjunction with PET scans to provide earlier and more accurate diagnosis of the heartbreaking disease Alzheimer’s.

If you’re a baby boomer, I’m going to share some disturbing and frightening numbers about you and your future.

If you’re a baby boomer, you’re now part of a group turning 65 years old at the rate of 10,000 of you every day.

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That fact also puts you in another potential group – one in eight boomers will develop Alzheimer’s during the next 20 years.

Today our concerns are for our aging parents and grandparents, but tomorrow, it’s all going to be about you.

Right now, in America, someone is being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 70 seconds. In addition to stealing the patients’ memories and ruining the image of the golden years of retirement, this epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease is fatal – there are no survivors. None.

According to the newest Alzheimer’s Association report, “Generation Alzheimer’s,” it is projected that of the 78 million baby boomers, 10 million will die from Alzheimer’s disease or a closely related condition caused by the disease.

While not even close to being the number one disease or killer of Americans – that honor still resides with heart-related diseases – Alzheimer’s disease is the only one of the top 10 causes of death in America that has no known method of prevention, no cure, nor for that matter, a reliable course of treatment to slow its progression.

The estimated medical costs to Medicare and the American healthcare system of Alzheimer’s over the next 40 years, if no preventative or cure is found, is $20 trillion.

Think about that – with our current national debt at about $14.5 trillion, the costs just for Alzheimer’s are sufficiently high to pay off the current national debt and have enough left over to mail a $20,000 check to every man, woman and child in America.

What about the human costs?

There are the billions of dollars that may have to be spent to provide outside care for ailing patients and untold billions more for unpaid caregivers and families who step into the challenge of caring for a parent or spouse. These caregivers are forced to go through the agony of losing a loved one twice: first as they watch the devastation being wrought by the actual effects of the disease both mentally and physically, and then, ultimately, the death of the patient.

According to a spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association, “Most people survive an average of four to six years after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, but many can live as long as 20 years with the disease. As the disease progresses, the person with dementia requires more and more assistance with everyday tasks like bathing, dressing, eating and household activities.”

The disease takes years to run its course, and in doing so places increasing demands on the estimated 11 million family members and friends who provide patient care.

The increased pressures on the caregivers can also have a direct impact on the caregiver’s health, employment – as the demands for care or doctor’s visits increase, thereby affecting their income and if they cover any of the disease’s related costs, undermine their own long term financial security.

Today, the diagnosis is a guaranteed death sentence to the patient, and unfortunately, can have devastating effects on the family members that care for the patient.

The actual costs are virtually immeasurable, and the current outlook for the future will, at the very least, require boomers and their families to take steps toward advance planning.

Ron Kauffman is a Geriatric Care Manager and Certified Senior Advisor. He is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available at, where you can also listen to his weekly podcasts. He can be reached at 561-818-0039 or by email at