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NIH Study: Costs of Dementia Care as High as $215 Billion in 2010

Health expenditures expected to skyrocket as ‘baby boomers’ age (Apr. 4)

The costs of caring for people with dementia in the U.S. in 2010 were between $159 billion and $215 billion, and those costs could rise dramatically with the increase in the numbers of older people in coming decades, according to estimates by researchers at the RAND Corp. and at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The researchers found that these costs of care were comparable with, if not greater than, those for heart disease and cancer.

The new study, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, totaled direct medical expenditures and costs attributable to the vast network of informal, unpaid care that supports people with dementia. Depending on how informal care is calculated, national expenditures in 2010 for dementia among people aged 71 years and older were found to be $159 billion to $215 billion.

The researchers also project skyrocketing costs as “baby boomers” grow older; the Bureau of the Census estimates that the U.S. population aged 65 years and older will double to about 72 million over the next 20 years. Rates of dementia increase with age, and unless new ways are found to treat and effectively prevent the disease, national health expenditures for dementia could come close to doubling by 2040 as the aging population increases, and assuming that the rate of dementia remains the same.

“These findings reveal that the enormous emotional and physical demands of caring for people with dementia are accompanied by the similarly imposing financial burdens of dementia care,” said Richard J. Hodes, MD. “The national costs further compel us to do all we can to find effective treatments for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias as soon as possible."

Identifying the costs of dementia has been challenging. People with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are typically older and often have multiple medical conditions, such as stroke and depression — diseases that commonly accompany dementia. It is also difficult to capture the national costs of family-provided or other informal care. To overcome such barriers, the researchers focused on dementia rates and costs among volunteers aged 71 years and older participating in the Aging, Demographics, and Memory Study (ADAMS).

Sources: NIH; April 3, 2013; and NEJM; April 4, 2013.

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