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1 in 3 Elderly Have Dementia When They Die

7:58 AM, Mar 19, 2013   |    comments
About a third of elderly have dementia when they die, according to a new report (Stockbyte via Getty Images)
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(USA TODAY) -- A new report showing one in three older adults dies with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia is raising concerns about the disease's "pervasive" scope and the spiraling costs of care, the authors say.

Deaths from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia have increased 68% from 2000 to 2010, according to the report being released today by the Alzheimer's Association, an advocacy group. Meanwhile, deaths from heart disease, HIV/AIDS and stroke have declined. The numbers are taken from Medicare and Medicaid reports.

"Urgent, meaningful action is needed, particularly as more and more people age into greater risk for developing the disease,'' says Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association.

The report says dementia is the second-largest contributor to death, after heart failure. Other findings:

•Payments for health care, long-term care, and hospice care are expected to increase from $203 billion to $1.2 trillion by 2050 for patients ages 65 and older.
•Medicare costs for an older person with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia are nearly three times higher than for seniors without dementia. Medicaid payments are 19 times higher.
•The stress on caregivers is estimated to result in the more than $9 billion in increased health care costs.

The number of people with Alzheimer's disease is expected to rise from 5.2 million to 13.8 million by 2050, putting an increasing burden on medical costs and caregivers. There is no way to prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer's or other types of dementia, including vascular and dementia caused by degeneration of brain tissue.

The Alzheimer's numbers "are simply staggering,'' says Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, the federal agency overseeing research for 233 areas of disease. Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death in the nation, and the only leading cause without a way to prevent or even slow progression. Among people 65 and older, it is the fifth-leading cause of death.

The report says death certificates often list acute conditions such as pneumonia as the cause of death rather than Alzheimer's, so the number of deaths primarily due to Alzheimer's might be even higher than reported.

Once Alzheimer's symptoms appear - memory loss that disrupts life, inability to plan or solve problems and poor judgment - it's too late to reverse the process, researchers say. Damage to the brain begins 10 to 20 years before symptoms appear.

Although the government set a goal to find a way to prevent the disease by 2025, advocates say funding levels are too low. Research estimates for 2013 are $3 billion for HIV/AIDS, $1.1 billion for diabetes, $1.66 billion for heart disease and $5.4 billion for cancer. Some cancers get additional funding (breast cancer $711 million, for example.) The money available for Alzheimer's research is $529 million.

"We have wanted to see a $2 billion commitment to research, because we've seen what has happened in diseases like HIV/AIDS when a big financial commitment is made," says Maria Carrillo, vice president of medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer's Association.

Funding for research "for Alzheimer's is totally insufficient,'' says Luigi Puglielli, an Alzheimer's researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Alzheimer's alone "is predicted to bankrupt Medicare. It would be wise to invest now and prevent the above scenario rather than deal with it when we get there.''

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