Alzheimer’s Costs Rise Dramatically
By Mary Branham Dusenberry, CSG Managing Editor
The good news is Americans are living longer. But that brings with it some bad news, say advocates for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
More than 5 million Americans over age 65 are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is only expected to rise, according to a report released by the Alzheimer’s Association Tuesday. The report, “2009 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures,” estimates an increase in that number to 7.7 million by 2030 and to between 11 million and 16 million by 2050.
The growth in the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is a wake-up call for many baby boomers, California first lady Maria Shriver told a Congressional subcommittee Wednesday. The first baby boomers will turn 65 in 2011, and all boomers will be 65 by 2029.
“We are the generation that believes our brain span should match our lifespan,” Shriver said.
Shriver spoke at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging as the Alzheimer’s Study Group released its National Alzheimer’s Strategic Plan. The group has been meeting since 2007 to develop recommendations to deal with the mounting Alzheimer’s crisis.
It’s an issue of which states should take particular note, said Mike Splaine, director of state policy and advocacy programs with the Alzheimer’s Association based in Washington, D.C.
“The Medicaid costs along for long-term care services and support is reason enough for state government to take a look at it as it affects their bottom line and what they’re able to do as a state,” Splaine said.
The Alzheimer’s Association report details the dramatic rise in costs for caring with a person over age 65 with Alzheimer’s and other dementias as opposed to those in the same age group without the ailment. Overall annual costs more than tripled, from $10,603 for someone without Alzheimer’s or dementia to $33,007 for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, according to the report. Medicaid costs were nine times more for an Alzheimer’s patient over age 65—$6,605 compared to $718 for someone without the disease.
Splaine said this new report on the prevalence of the disease provides the needed data for states considering developing state government Alzheimer’s plans—there are 20 of those plans in various stages across the country, he said.
“It provides some of the backup material that they’ll need to deal with not only today’s crisis, but also the pending crisis to come,” he said.
He believes the attention Alzheimer’s disease is getting not only from states, but also from the federal government as Congress considers the Alzheimer’s Study Group report, will help reframe the disease.
“It’s not just a personal and family issue, but a society and economic issue,” Splaine said. And he hopes states will take notice and begin to take action. State plans are a good place to start, he said.
“The genius of the idea of a comprehensive state plan is that it gets everybody around the table, saying what can we do to be more strategic about how we support families, spend state dollars and structure care?” Splaine said.
The Alzheimer’s Study Group made 16 specific recommendations, said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, co-chair of the group, said during the Senate Committee on Aging hearing, which was broadcast live via the Internet. One of those recommendations is a change in how scientific research is funded and conducted. Gingrich said the United States is looking at a $20 trillion expenditure in care and treatment costs over the next 40 years. Prevention—or at the least, a delayed onset—could offer tremendous savings, he said. For instance, Gingrich said a five-year delay in the onset of the disease could save more than $8 trillion.
Besides the financial savings, Alzheimer’s advocates say solutions would improve the quality of life of the more than 5 million people with the disease, as well as the people who care for them. Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, co-chair of the study group, said during the Senate committee meeting the recommendations focus on two major areas—prevention and care.