TUESDAY, March 15 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly 15 million Americans are caring for someone with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, and the number is rising, according to a report released Tuesday.
"People with Alzheimer's who are otherwise healthy may live as long as 20 or 25 years," said William H. Thies, chief medical and scientific officer at the Alzheimer's Association, which is publishing the report in the March issue of its journal, Alzheimer's & Dementia. "These are individuals who need increasing levels of care over time, and that can be very difficult for families.
About 5.4 million people in the United States have Alzheimer's disease, and their 14.9 million caregivers provided a total of 17 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at more than $200 billion, according to the report, which also highlights the physical and emotional burdens that caregivers face every day.
"There's a real lack of understanding among families about the toll that this disease is ultimately going to take," said Beth Kallmyer, senior director of constituent services at the Alzheimer's Association.
"Too many people wait until they're in a middle of a crisis to seek help, which is why we encourage people to start the care-planning process as soon as someone gets the diagnosis," she said.
Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed, the report noted.
What's more, while the death rates for heart disease, stroke and several other major diseases declined from 2000 to 2008, deaths related to Alzheimer's disease increased by 66 percent. By the year 2050, the annual total number of new cases of Alzheimer's and other dementias is expected to double.
Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said that
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