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A continuous rise in diagnoses has propelled the national cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia to over a quarter of a trillion dollars for the second year in a row.
The total to care for patients is estimated at $277 billion for 2018, which is nearly a $20 billion increase from last year, according to a new report from the Alzheimer’s Association. The majority of the money, $186 billion, is the cost to Medicare and Medicaid.
Mark Fried, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association Oklahoma Chapter, said a rapid increase in the number of older Americans — and therefore the number of Alzheimer’s cases — largely explains the daunting figures.
The cost of care is projected to increase to more than $1.1 trillion by 2050.
“It’s disheartening to see those numbers change and go up at such a level where it’s hard to even wrap our minds around how much it costs and how many people are impacted by the disease and how often people are starting to develop it,” Fried said. “It’s overwhelming from a personal standpoint and crushing from a financial standpoint.”
Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in America and Oklahoma.
According to the 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, which is an annual compilation of national statistics on dementia, Alzheimer’s-related deaths continue to rise while other major causes of deaths are decreasing.
Mortality from Alzheimer’s rose 123 percent from 2000 to 2015. Mortality from heart disease — the No. 1 cause of death nationally — decreased 11 percent during that time.
The lifetime cost of care for a person living with dementia in 2017 was $341,840, with 70 percent of the cost borne by families directly through out-of-pocket costs and the value of unpaid care, the report states.
Nearly 1,500 Alzheimer’s patients in Oklahoma died in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. Further, the report estimates total Medicaid costs for Oklahomans 65 and older suffering from some form of dementia will be $481 million for 2018. That number is expected to increase almost 25 percent to about $600 million in the next seven years.
“It puts a real spotlight on the need to invest in the research and invest in the critical breakthroughs that we all are desperate for,” Fried said.
No effective treatment for Alzheimer’s exists, and current medications help to only keep symptoms at bay. But Fried said there are advancements being made in dementia research that are pushing researchers closer to a cure, or at least better treatment.
“There’s more momentum and more optimism within the Alzheimer’s research industry now than there ever has been in our lifetime,” he said. “We believe there is hope coming. The thing is we don’t know when that could be.
“With each passing day and each passing year, there are more people who are developing the disease, and it’s costing our country more and more. It’s a public health issue that’s reaching a financial crisis level. It’s the most expensive disease in America.”
Without a medical breakthrough, Fried said there’s no way to slow down the rising cost of caring for Alzheimer’s.
Earlier diagnoses can help families save money in the long term, however. Fried said most people are diagnosed during the middle stages of Alzheimer’s when they already are experiencing some progression.
If a diagnosis is made in the early stages, it gives patients more time to find a care plan most suited to their needs and finances.
“When planning is involved, when there is support that can be accessed at an earlier stage, it is helpful in that overall plan of care, which then reduces the financial impact,” Fried said.
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