Thursday, April 4, 2013

Study of Alzheimer's Costs Reveals Staggering Toll

In what may be the first detailed analysis of the costs associated with having Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, researchers have found that the financial burden on society is substantial, with annual costs exceeding those for heart disease and cancer, both of which claim far more lives each year. According to a study published online yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine, dementia-related care costs in 2010 totaled $109 billion, compared with $102 billion for heart disease and $77 billion for cancer. Though these costs may seem staggering now, the researchers estimated that they will more than double by 2040. In calculating costs of caring for patients with dementia, they included costs that were not directly medical, such as home care, unpaid care, and nursing-home costs, expenses required to help dementia patients function on a daily basis. The lead researcher was Michael Hurd, Ph.D., of the RAND Corporation; the study was funded by grants from the National Institute on Aging.

The researchers also determined that in 2010 the prevalence of dementia among those in the U.S. aged 70 and older was 14.7%, and that about 4.1 million Americans met criteria for dementia in 2010, a figure well below the 5.2 million recently cited by the Alzheimer's Association. Researchers assessed dementia via in-home cognitive assessments of three to four hours in a nationally representative sample of 856 older adults, with the assessments then reviewed by an expert panel.

Brent Forester, M.D., chair of the APA Council on Geriatric Psychiatry, told Psychiatric News that the RAND study "points out the staggering economic toll that Alzheimer's disease takes on individuals with dementia, their families ,and the national economy. If we do not find effective prevention methods or treatments that meaningfully slow disease progression, the costs of dementia care will cripple our health care system. This study did not take into account the emotional costs paid by caregivers who face the brunt of this illness. The health care system has to do a better job of preventing the emotional and medical complications of caregiving for loved ones with dementia. Collaborations between academia, industry, and the federal government are required to accelerate our focus on developing effective therapies for prevention and early intervention for at risk individuals."

Read about recent research on etiology and treatment of Alzheimer's and other dementias in Psychiatric News here and here. Also see American Psychiatric Publishing's Clinical Manual of Alzheimer Disease and Other Dementias.

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