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Study: Baby Boomers Will Drive Explosion in Alzheimer’s-Related Costs in Coming Decades

Number of patients expected to double in 40 years

As baby boomers reach their sunset years, shifting nationwide demographics with them, the financial burden of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in the U.S. will skyrocket from $307 billion annually to $1.5 trillion, researchers at the University of Southern California have predicted.

Health policy researchers at the USC Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics used models that incorporate trends in health, health care costs, education, and demographics to explore the future effect of AD on the nation’s population.

Other key findings include:

  • From 2010 to 2050, the number of individuals aged 70 years or older with AD will increase by 153%, from 3.6 million to 9.1 million.
  • Annual per-person costs of the disease were $71,000 in 2010, which is expected to double by 2050.
  • Medicare and Medicaid currently bear 75% of the costs of the disease.

“Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease with symptoms that gradually worsen over time. People don’t get better,” said lead author Dr. Julie Zissimopoulos. “It is so expensive because individuals with Alzheimer’s disease need extensive help with daily activities provided by paid caregivers or by family members who may be taking time off of work to care for them, which has a double impact on the economy.”

“In late stages of the disease,” she added, “they need help with personal care and lose the ability to control movement, which requires 24-hour care, most often in an institutional setting.”

The study was published online in the Forum for Health Economics and Policy.

Zissimopoulos and her colleagues found that delaying the onset of AD even a little can yield major benefits both in quality of life and in overall costs.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 43.1 million Americans were 65 years of age or older in 2012, constituting 14% of the population. By 2050, that number will more than double to 83.7 million, constituting 21% of the population, the authors predict.

Medical advances that delay the onset of AD by 5 years add approximately 2.7 years of life for patients. By 2050, a 5-year delay in onset will result in a 41% lower prevalence of the disease in the population and will lower the overall costs to society by 40%, according to the team’s research.

“Our colleagues in the medical field are working on ways to understand how the disease interferes with brain processes — and then stop it,” said Zissimopoulos. “Investment in their work now could yield huge benefits down the line.”

Sources: University of Southern California; November 11, 2014; and FHEP; November 2014.

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