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With Alzheimer's, Health-Care Costs Could Triple

Experts urge greater investment in research to stem 'crippling' expenses

TUESDAY, March 24 (HealthDay News) -- In a new report, the Alzheimer's Association estimates that Alzheimer's disease and dementia triple the health-care costs for afflicted seniors.

In addition, people who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities pay an average of $16,689 in out-of-pocket costs each year, researchers found. The association also estimates that nearly 10 million unpaid caregivers of people with Alzheimer's disease spent 8.5 billion hours in 2008 watching over their loved ones, care valued at an estimated $94 billion.

"These health-care costs are crippling, not just to society at large but to families and individuals," said Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer with the Alzheimer's Association, which released the report Tuesday.

About 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, according to the association's Facts and Figures report for 2009. The number includes about 14 percent of people aged 71 and older.

The report finds that:

  • The average annual health-care cost for someone older than 65 with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia was $33,007 in 2004 -- three times more than the $10,603 for people that age without the conditions.
  • Deaths from Alzheimer's disease rose by 47 percent from 2000 to 2006 while the number of deaths from several other major diseases -- including heart attack, stroke, breast cancer and prostate cancer -- fell during that period.
  • States in the Rocky Mountains and Northwest will see the number of people with Alzheimer's disease increase by at least 81 percent between 2000 and 2025.
  • By 2025, California and Florida will each be home to more than a half-million people with Alzheimer's disease.

"The bottom line is that we are an aging society, and if we don't find a cure to delay or halt the disease, we are soon going to become an Alzheimer's nation," said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a psychiatry professor at Duke University Medical Center and co-author of the book The Alzheimer's Action Plan.

Dr. Gary Small, director of the Memory & Aging Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, added that detecting symptoms early can save money in the long run.

"If you treat people early and keep them at a higher level of functioning, the costs tend to be lower," Small said. "The costs tend to increase as people get more dysfunctional and require more medical care and caregiver time."

In the big picture, the country needs to invest more in Alzheimer's research to keep costs low in the future, Small said. "More research on that could eventually get us to the stage where you take a vaccine or drug to reduce the risk of getting it," he said.

Geiger said that the federal government needs to more than double its annual budget for Alzheimer's research, to $1 billion. "That's the level and the investment that it's going to take," she said.

More information

The Alzheimer's Association has more about Alzheimer's disease.

SOURCES: Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer, Alzheimer's Association, Chicago; Gary Small, M.D., director, Memory & Aging Center, University of California, Los Angeles; P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., professor, psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.; Alzheimer's Association, 2009 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures

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