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US braces for Alzheimer's boom

25th March 2008

A new report into the impact on the baby boom generation of Alzheimer's disease estimates that around 10 million people now in their early sixties could get the mind-wasting disease.

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The projected 500,000 new cases of Alzheimer's by 2010 will place enormous strain on the US healthcare system and an overburdened network of carers, according to the report by the Alzheimer's Association.

Around 5.2 million people currently have Alzheimer's in the United States. The age of highest risk for the debilitating disease starts at 65. Experts say some of the baby boomers are already developing the disease, and numbers look set to increase dramatically over the next 10-20 years.

The report predicts nearly one million new cases a year by 2050, based on the assumption that one in eight people in the high-risk age group will develop the disease.

Stephen McConnell, the association's vice president for advocacy and public policy said the disease would have a huge impact on baby boomers' lives, their families, and the nation's health-care system.

Caregivers of an Alzheimer's patient are typically spouses, but a growing number of them are children aged eight to 18. The impact of the disease spread far beyond the person and their main carer to their children and grandchildren, McConnell said.

With most people with Alzheimer's eligible for the federal health insurance programme Medicare, the report predicted that funding for Alzheimer's through that system would climb to US$189 billion annually by 2015 compared with US$91 billion in 2005.

Alzheimer's incurs much higher medical costs than other conditions because it tends to complicate the treatment of other medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Patients typically live for eight years after the onset of the disease, but some people can live for up to 20 years, putting an additional strain on overburdened resources.

Most people with Alzheimer's disease end up in a nursing home or an assisted living facility, and three-quarters of them die there, according to McConnell. The cost for such long-term care is not alway covered by regular health insurance, leaving many patients potentially vulnerable and without care.

McConnell said diet, exercise and blood-pressure control could help stave off cognitive decline and Alzheimer's.

And promising new drugs were currently being tested which had the potential to alter the course of the disease.

But he pointed to relatively low levels of government funding for research into Alzheimer's, which currently gets just US$640 million a year compared with US$3 billion on heart disease and US$5 billion on cancer.

 

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