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Cost of Dementia Tops $157 Billion


Nearly one in five of us boomers will develop Alzheimer's disease or some other form of dementia in our lifetime. If that's not scary enough, researchers have put a staggering figure on the diseases' financial burden.

A new study published in the April 4 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine says dementia costs more than heart disease or even cancer - between $157 and $215 billion annually. And that was based on the prevalence of the disease in 2010, when nearly 15 percent of the population was diagnosed.

By 2040, when the prevalence is predicted to nearly double, the cost of the disease is expected to be as high as $511 billion, the study by the RAND Corporation says. Many of these costs were associated with institutional and home-based long-term care rather than for medical services.

The study is considered to be the most detailed in decades on the costs of dementia, which includes Alzheimer's and other disorders.

"Our findings underscore the urgency . . . to address the growing impact of dementia on American society," says Michael Hurd, the study's lead author and a senior economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

Dementia is a progressive brain disease that causes severe memory loss and confusion. It interferes with people's daily living skills, and eventually, they may become unable to care for themselves.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, 5 million people are living with the disease, most of whom are 65 and older.

Other facts include:

  • More than 15.4 million caregivers provided more than 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at $216 billion.
  • Some 15 percent of caregivers don't live in the same city as the person they're caring for.
  •  1 in 3 people dies of Alzheimer's or dementia.

The study's findings on the costs of dementia were particularly timely. On Tuesday, President Obama announced a$100 million research initiative designed to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure and even prevent brain disorders including Alzheimer's, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury. The funds will be used in part to develop new technologies, which will aid researchers in exploring how the brain works - how it records, processes, uses, stores and retrieves vast quantities of information - and shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior.

The focus on treating and preventing dementia comes not a moment too soon. Medical advances have enabled us to live longer, but with that longevity comes the heightened risk of dementia.

By 2030, people 65-plus will number about 72.1 million, or more than twice their number in 2000.

Likewise, 10 percent of the population is expected to reach age 90 and older over the next four decades, according to U.S. Census data.

Photo: Campbelltown City Council via 

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