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Alzheimer's: In More Ways Than One, the Costliest Disease

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Alzheimer's disease accounts for more U.S. health care spending than any other disease, and that share will skyrocket as the nation's population ages, experts told members of a Senate health subcommittee on Feb. 26.

Research shows that 14.7 percent of Americans 71 and older had dementia in 2010 and that the condition, on average, was associated with $41,685 a year in medical and informal-care costs, said Michael D. Hurd, director of the RAND Center for the Study of Aging. Dementia - the vast majority of which is Alzheimer's - costs the nation more than $109 billion a year, more than heart disease or cancer, he said. By 2040, as the nation ages, Hurd continued, the annual cost will be more than $379 billion.

Comedian and actor Seth Rogen spoke about Alzheimer's from a personal perspective. His mother-in-law, he said, couldn't speak or manage basic functions by the time she was 60 because of the disease. "The situation is so dire," he said, "it caused me - a lazy, self-involved, generally self-medicated man-child - to start an entire charity organization."

Rogen founded Hilarity for Charity to support families and research. Rogen says on the organization's website that that he aims "to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer's among a younger generation." The site adds, "For far too long, Alzheimer's has been wrongly categorized as 'an old person's disease' and it's time for a change. With the rapid rate at which the disease is growing, it's time to get the younger folks, who will be the older folks before too long, involved."

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that finding a cure for Alzheimer's is critical to reining in health care costs. Of every $27 the nation spends through Medicare and Medicaid to treat Alzheimer's patients, he noted, only $1 is spent on research. Delaying the onset of Alzheimer's by an average of five years, he said, could save the nation $447 billion by the year 2050.

Francis S. Collins, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health, talked about advances in Alzheimer's research but hastened to warn: "This kind of science is not a 100-yard dash; it's a marathon."


Photo: EdStock/istockphoto


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