Alzheimer’s Disease Could Single-Handedly Collapse Medicare, Medicaid

Alzheimer’s is a disease that scares almost everyone, and today in America, it has become so prevalent that it consumes one in every five Medicare/Medicaid dollars.

CNN reported that Alzheimer’s is the disease that could bankrupt Medicare; by the year 2050, more than half of Americans over the age of 65-years-old could have Alzheimer’s disease. And experts say that the research dollars spent on Alzheimer’s are not enough to fund treatments or a cure.

According to an annual report released on Tuesday by the Alzheimer’s Association, one American will develop Alzheimer’s disease every 66 seconds this year. Then, by the year 2050, this number is expected to double to one every 33 seconds.

So, what does this mean? It means that more than half of all Americans aged over 65-years-old will have Alzheimer’s by the middle of the century. These are very scary figures, but they’re statistics that are mirrored worldwide. A World Alzheimer’s report released in 2016 estimated that 47 million people around the globe have dementia. And because a large majority of people have undiagnosed dementia, the global number of people diagnosed is expected to triple by the year 2050.

Ruth Drew is the director of Family and Information Services for the Alzheimer’s Association, and she says that it is the lack of “disease modifying treatment,” prevention, and cure that drives these remarkably high figures.

“While U.S. deaths from Alzheimer’s have doubled in the last 15 years, an increase of 89 per cent, deaths from other major diseases have been declining. Deaths from heart disease, the No. 1 killer of Americans, have declined by 14 per cent over the same period while HIV deaths have dropped by 54 per cent, stroke deaths by 21 per cent and prostate cancer deaths by 9 per cent.”

Drew believes that the rates of these other diseases have declined because of “significant investments in research that produce treatments and techniques to reduce risk, sometimes even a cure.”

Trudy Tanzi is a Harvard professor of neurology; she also heads up the Massachusetts General Genetics and Ageing Research Unit.

“The issue is mainly funding. We are a knowledge-rich yet budget-constrained field. We have many clues about how to stop Alzheimer’s, especially from recent genetic studies, but insufficient funds to explore how.”

Experts have pointed out that without appropriate funding and a breakthrough, Alzheimer’s could be the disease that breaks the nation’s health care bank. But that’s not all: there’s another hidden cost with this terrifying disease – the cost of caregiving. Today, for the first time, total costs for caring for people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias hit $259 million.

“Already, Alzheimer’s consumes one in every five Medicare/Medicaid dollars. With 71 million baby boomers headed toward risk age, this will go to one in three, perhaps in the next decade, at which point Alzheimer’s will single-handedly collapse Medicare/Medicaid.”

Carers who took care of loved ones with dementia in the year 2016 provided an estimated 18.2 billion hours of unpaid assistance, which adds up to a contribution to the nation of $230.1 billion. Of course, these are just the monetary figures; how does one put a number on the health and emotional impact of caring for a loved one suffering from dementia?

Experts say that the cost of Alzheimer’s, including caregiving, will soon be a reality that affects everyone. Many people make the mistake of thinking that Alzheimer’s won’t affect them because it’s not in their family, or they’re not old, but the truth of the matter is that if you have a brain, you’re at risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Another truth is that if every person lived to 85-years-old, half will have Alzheimer’s disease and the other half will be caregivers. These are very scary statistics.

A recent article in the Cape Gazette highlighted the difference between age-related memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.

We’re living in times when almost everyone knows someone battling Alzheimer’s. David Forman is the president of Visiting Angels, a home care company helping seniors retain their independence and helping families care for their loved ones. He offered some insight about Alzheimer’s and how it can be distinguished from age-related memory loss and other illnesses with similar symptoms.

“The term Alzheimer’s has become almost a generic term for every lapse in memory or lost set of keys, and using it so flippantly we can miss the seriousness of the actual condition. This past decade for example, while death rates for many serious diseases including stroke, heart disease and major cancers, have declined, deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased nearly 70 per cent over the same period.”

Forman said that when a person has a habit of misplacing their keys or occasionally walks into a room and forgets why they did so, it can certainly be an annoyance. It may be caused by stress or distraction, but it’s a far cry from the inevitably fatal consequences of advanced dementia. It is important to understand the differences because there is a danger of dismissing clear symptoms as “senior moments” and thus failing to identify the disease as it progresses.

Even though there is no cure for Alzheimer’s at this point in time, early detection is critical because there are effective drugs that can slow the progress of the disease. Other illnesses and causes can mimic dementia, but dementia itself is one of the most severe symptoms and usually accompanies later stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

[Featured Image by Ocskay Mark/Shutterstock]