It’s no secret that an aging baby boomer population carries huge cost implications for the nation’s health care system. And when it comes to dementia care, treating diseases like Alzheimer’s will cause those costs to skyrocket, according to new research from the University of Southern California (USC).
As boomers age, the financial burden of Alzheimer’s disease on the U.S. are expected to rise from $307 billion to an annual spend of $1.5 trillion, say researchers at the USC Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics.
Using models that incorporate trends in health, health care costs, education and demographics, USC researchers conducted a study to explore the future impact that one of America’s costliest and incurable diseases has on the nation’s population.
The projections are startling. From 2010 to 2050, researchers forecast that the number of individuals aged 70 and older with Alzheimer’s will increase by 153%, from 3.6 million to 9.1 million.
Perhaps the most harrowing aspect of Alzheimer’s is that the disease is progressive with symptoms that gradually worsen over time rather than improve, said Julie Zissimopoulos, lead author of the study and an associate director at the USC Schaeffer Center.
“In late stages of the disease, they need help with personal care and lose the ability to control movement which requires 24-hour care, most often in an institutional setting,” said Zissimopoulos.
Just two years ago, 43.1 million Americans were 65 and older, constituting 14% of the U.S. population in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2050, however, that number is projected to more than double to 83.7 million, or 21% of the population. And with that doubling population growth also comes doubled down costs associated with Alzheimer’s care.
While the annual per-person cost with treating the disease were approximately $71,000 in 2010, USC projects it will double by 2050. Such an expense hike also stand to put added pressure on federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which currently bear 75% of the costs of the disease, researchers noted.
“It is so expensive because individuals with Alzheimer’s disease need extensive help with daily activities provided by paid caregivers or by family members who may be taking time off of work to care for them, which has a double impact on the economy,” Zissimopoulos said.
Delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s by a few years can yield major benefits both in quality of life and overall costs.
Medical advances that delay the onset of the disease by five years add about 2.7 years of life for patients, according to the study, which noted that by 2050 a five-year delay could result in a 41% lower prevalence of the disease in the population, thus having the potential to lower overall costs to society by 40%.
“Our colleagues in the medical field are working on ways to understand how the disease interferes with brain processes—and then stop it,” said Zissimopoulos. “Investment in their work now could yield huge benefits down the line.”
Written by Jason Oliva