10 Million Baby Boomers Face Alzheimer's, Report Predicts

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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter
Tuesday, March 18, 2008; 12:00 AM

TUESDAY, March 18 (HealthDay News) -- An estimated 10 million American baby boomers will develop Alzheimer's disease in their lifetime, placing enormous strains on the U.S. health-care system and the already overburdened network of caregivers, a new report predicts.

Currently, at least 5.2 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's, including 200,000 to 250,000 people under age 65. By 2010, projections say there will be 500,000 new cases of the mind-wasting disease each year, and nearly one million new cases annually by 2050, the report estimates.

In addition, the report, released Tuesday by the Alzheimer's Association, showed that the disease is now the seventh deadliest in the nation and that women are at greater risk than men.

The overall prediction for 10 million, which translates to 1 out of every 8 boomers, is a number that is "particularly significant because it's people who are now just approaching what we refer to as the age of highest risk," said Stephen McConnell, the association's vice president for advocacy and public policy.

The age of highest risk for Alzheimer's starts at 65, McConnell said. "Some of these people are already developing the disease, and those numbers are just going to increase dramatically over the next several decades," he added.

This is going to have a huge impact on baby boomers' lives, their families, and the nation's health-care system, McConnell said.

Right now, there are 10 million caregivers providing care, many of them family members, at enormous personal cost, McConnell noted. "These caregivers tend to be spouses, but there's evidence that 250,000 of these caregivers are children 8 to 18," he said. "So you get the sense of an expanded circle of people who are affected by this disease. It's not just the person with the disease. It's not just their immediate caregiver -- it's the children and grandchildren."

Most people with Alzheimer's are eligible for Medicare, so a burgeoning number of Alzheimer's patients will put a major strain on the federal health insurance program, McConnell pointed out.

Medicare currently spends more than three times as much money on people with Alzheimer's and other dementias than it does for the average Medicare recipient. In 2005, Medicare spent $91 billion on people with Alzheimer's and other dementias. By 2010, that number is expected to climb to $160 billion, and by 2015, to $189 billion annually, according to the report.

These high Medicare costs occur because Alzheimer's tends to complicate the treatment of other medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, McConnell said. Also, while people with Alzheimer's live an average of eight years, they can live more than 20 years, placing an additional strain on the health-care system.

The projected rise in Alzheimer's cases will also burden the long-term care system, McConnell said. "Right now, it's mostly families providing care at home, but most people with Alzheimer's disease end up in a nursing home or an assisted living facility," he said. "In fact, three-quarters of people with Alzheimer's will die in such a facility."

Complicating matters, long-term care isn't covered by most regular health insurance, and most people don't have long-term care insurance, McConnell said. "That's going to have a devastating impact on society," he said.


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