The real costs & impact of Alzheimer’s Disease

Senior Lifestyles
by Ron Kauffman

There’s a great deal of information that has come out about Alzheimer’s disease in the past decade.
Sadly it’s not good news, especially if you’re part of the baby boomer generation that continues to turn 65 years old at the rate of 10,000 every day; and the truth about this disease is frightening.
Today, Alzheimer’s disease is the #6 rated killer of Americans behind Heart disease (23.4% of all deaths), Cancer (22.5%), Chronic lung diseases (5.6%), Accidents (unintentional injuries; 5.2%), Stroke (5.1%) and Alzheimer’s disease (3.6%). However, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s among American baby boomers will rise from 1.2% in 2020, when most boomers will be in their 60s and early 70s, to an astonishing 50.1% in 2050, when all the boomers will be age 85 or older. More than 28 million baby boomers will develop Alzheimer’s disease between now and mid-century and the cost of caring for them will consume nearly 25 percent of Medicare spending in 2040.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 70-seconds, and it is projected that of the 78-million baby boomers, as many as 10-million will die from Alzheimer’s disease or a closely related condition caused by the disease. While trials and research go on, today there is no known method of prevention, cure or a reliable course of treatment to slow its progression.
There are other aspects of this disease that are as frightening as the disease itself. The estimated medical costs of Alzheimer’s to Medicare and America’s healthcare system over the next 40 years, if no preventative or cure is found, is $20 trillion – almost enough to pay off the current national debt.
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. Many of 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, by the death of the patient.
As the disease progresses, the person with dementia requires more and more assistance with everyday tasks like bathing, dressing, eating and household activities, and family caregivers already know that these are part of the hidden costs of dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
The fact is that the disease takes years to run its course, and in doing so places increasing demands on the estimated 10-12 million family members and friends who provide unpaid patient care. The increased pressures on the caregivers can also have a direct impact on the caregiver’s health and employment. As the demands for care or doctor’s visits increase, it affects their income, and if they have to pay any of the disease’s related costs, it can undermine their own long term financial security.
While I wish that I didn’t have to write this type of article and that the news was better, we have to deal with reality. Today that reality is that the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is a guaranteed death sentence to the patient. Unfortunately, it can also have devastating effects on 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 now toward advance planning.
Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging. Contact him at 828-696-9799 or by email at drron561@gmail.com.

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