Less than a week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced plans to get new Alzheimer's drugs to market more quickly, comes two alarming reports showing dramatic increases in the number of deaths from the degenerative brain disease.
Although Alzheimer's may not be the direct cause of death, it can accelerate a person's decline by increasing the risk for pneumonia and other illnesses, and interfering with care for conditions like heart disease or cancer, the report said.
While only 30 percent of 70-year-olds who don't have Alzheimer's are expected to die before their 80th birthday, the number jumps to 61 percent if they have dementia, the report noted. An association vice president described this effect as "exacerbated aging," reported NBC News.
In a separate finding, new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the risk of death from Alzheimer's rose 39 percent between 2000 and 2010 even as mortality rates for other conditions, such as cancer, heart disease and stroke, fell significantly, Reuters reported.
The CDC reported that those age 85 and older are far more at risk of dying from Alzheimer's than those age 65 to 84, and whites and women are also at higher risk.
The Alzheimer's Association's report, which looked at the number of actual deaths based on CDC data, found mortality up 68 percent over the same decade. The group's report called dementia the second-largest contributor to death, after heart failure, according to USA Today.
Other findings from the Alzheimer's Association report:
- In 2013, Alzheimer's will cost the country $203 billion for health care, long-term care and hospice care for patients 65 or older. By 2050 that's expected to grow to $1.2 trillion, barring any medical breakthroughs.
- Medicare costs for an older person with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia are nearly three times higher than for older adults without dementia. Medicaid payments are 19 times higher.
- The physical and emotional toll on caregivers resulted in more than $9 billion in increased health care costs.
About 5.2 million Americans already suffer from Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, and the association estimates that figure will grow to 13.8 million by 2050, which is somewhat lower than previous estimates.
The Alzheimer's numbers "are simply staggering,'' Francis Collins, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health, the federal agency overseeing research for 233 areas of disease, told USA Today. And while many Alzheimer's advocates are pushing for more government research money, it's not clear how government budget cuts will affect that goal.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's, which the CDC said is the fifth leading cause of death for Americans age 65 and older and the sixth leading cause overall.
Photo: Catherine Ledner/Getty Images
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