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WEDNESDAY, May 19 (HealthDay News) -- The number of Americans age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease will more than double in the next 40 years, and the cumulative costs of caring for them between now and 2050 will exceed $20 trillion, a new report from the Alzheimer's Association finds.
"We know that Alzheimer's disease is not just 'a little memory loss' -- it is a national crisis that grows worse by the day," Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association, said in a news release issued Wednesday.
"Alzheimer's not only poses a significant threat to millions of families, but also drives tremendous costs for government programs like Medicare and Medicaid," he said.
The report, titled "Changing the Trajectory of Alzheimer's Disease: A National Imperative, predicts that the increase in Alzheimer's patients -- from 5.1 million today to 13.5 million in 2050 -- will raise total Alzheimer's costs by all payers from $172 billion in 2010 to more than $1 trillion in 2050.
Annual Medicare costs will soar more than 600%, from $88 billion today to $627 billion in 2050. Medicaid costs will rise from $34 billion to $178 billion by 2050, the report says.
One reason why costs will balloon by mid-century is that almost half of all Alzheimer's patients will be in the severe stage of the disease by then, requiring intensive -- and expensive - care, the report noted.
The predictions were based on a model developed by the Lewin Group for the Alzheimer's Association that assumed no cure would be found for the disease.
But Johns said treatment breakthroughs could dramatically alter the dire forecast.
"While the ultimate goal is a treatment that can completely prevent or cure Alzheimer's, we can now see that even modest improvements can have a huge impact," Johns said.
A discovery that postpones disease onset by five years and starts showing an effect in 2015 would reduce the population of Americans age 65 and older with Alzheimer's from 5.6 million to 4 million in 2020, the report said.
The association said such a breakthrough would result in the following:
- 43% of the 13.5 million Americans who would have been expected to have the condition in 2050 would be free of it.
- Many fewer people would be in the severe stage by 2050 -- 3.5 million instead of the expected 6.5 million.
- The savings to Medicare and Medicaid would be substantial. Compared to current trends, annual Medicare savings would be $33 billion in 2020 and $283 billion by mid-century, while savings for Medicaid would grow from $9 billion in 2020 to $79 billion in 2050.
Increased government funding of Alzheimer's research should be a priority, Johns said.
"Given the magnitude and the impact of this disease, the government's response to this burgeoning crisis has been stunningly neglectful," said Johns. "For the human effects and the country's fiscal future, we must change the trajectory of the Alzheimer crisis."
-- Margaret Steele
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