No signs of decline in number of Alzheimer’s cases
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Unlike many other diseases, Alzheimer's is not seeing a decline in diagnoses.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than 5 million Americans live with some form of the disease, with thousands experiencing younger onset. Without funding and research, that number is expected to grow exponentially.
"If we can't change the trajectory of this disease, the number is expected to reach 16 million by 2050," said Maria Carrillo, vice president of medical and scientific relations with the Alzheimer's Association. That information is available in a new report, 2014 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, released today.
According to the report, African Americans are twice as likely as Caucasians to develop Alzheimer's Disease, and Hispanics are one-and-a-half times as likely. Carrillo attributed the differences in development of the disease partly to cultural traditions.
"We know that different cultures have different ways of thinking about loved ones and maybe don't want to acknowledge problems are taking place," Carrillo said, noting African Americans tend to be diagnosed later than Caucasians.
A new statistic found nearly 500,000 Americans die each year from Alzheimer's, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, the disease costs the country about $214 billion each year. That total is projected to reach $1.2 trillion by 2050 if the trajectory remains unchanged. Most of that cost is related to care, and most of the care burden falls to women.
"Alzheimer's is a devastating disease, but to a whole family," Carrillo said. "Because of the nature of the type of care required for Alzheimer's, unfortunately care givers are providing 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care to patients of Alzheimer's disease and dementia in the United States alone."
As the disease progresses, care becomes a round-the-clock activity and even more challenging for the caregiver. Women are two-and-a-half times more likely to care for an Alzheimer's patient than a man, and that tends to lead to women taking time off of work or losing work-related benefits.
"This time in the late stage of the disease is really intense care," said Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer for the Alzheimer's Association. "It's physically taxing."
That level of 24-hour care means the caregiver is likely doing everything for the patient, such as feeding and clothing. Geiger said that is both physically and emotionally draining.
Because women are so affected by the disease, the Alzheimer's Association soon will begin a nationwide campaign blitz aimed at women. The association is calling for 1 million women to visit www.alz.org/mybrain to say why her brain matters and how she'll use it to help wipe out Alzheimer's Disease. Geiger said 3.2 million women currently live with disease and 62 percent of caregivers nationwide are women. The ad campaign begins today.
But women aren't the only ones who should be concerned about Alzheimer's. The Alzheimer's Association polled 3,100 Americans to gauge their concerns about the disease. Association officials were startled by the results. Nearly 25 percent of men and large percentages of Asian and Hispanic populations think Alzheimer's is only hereditary-that they can't develop the disease unless an older family member has. That's not true, Geiger said.
"If you have a brain, you should be worried about Alzheimer's disease," Geiger said. "It does not have to run in your family."
Although the cost of Alzheimer's is at an all-time high, Carrillo said now is a promising time in Alzheimer's research. Several medications are being tested by the Food and Drug Administration. She's hopeful clinical trials on some of those compounds will begin soon.
"It is a very hopeful time," Carrillo said.
But those medications can't come without funding. Geiger said that is the biggest roadblock to more advanced Alzheimer's research.
"Probably the biggest roadblock overall is the need for more attention," she said. "One of the things we found over the past few years is public concern about Alzheimer's disease has increased quite significantly."
That rise in concern has led to and increase in awareness. Geiger said about 500,000 advocates are helping lobby Congress and other leaders for federal funding.
To view the report, visit alz.org.