Alzheimer’s disease cost the United States an estimated $214 billion in 2014, including $150 billion to Medicare and Medicaid, making it by far the most expensive condition in the nation, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. A recent study published by the University of Southern California (USC) indicates that those costs are expected to soar as more baby boomers reach retirement age.
By using models that consider trends in health, healthcare costs, education, and demographics, the study found that from 2010 to 2050, the number of Americans ages 70 and over with Alzheimer’s will grow from 3.6 to 9.1 million. The financial burden of treating those patients is expected to reach $1.5 trillion annually. Currently, 75 percent of that cost is shouldered by Medicare and Medicaid.
The Cost of Caregiving
Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t only affect the nation’s bottom line: The Alzheimer’s Association also points out that in 2013, 15.5 million family members and friends provided 17.7 billion hours of care to those suffering from the degenerative disease. Their work was valued at more than $220 billion in unpaid care. Because of the physical, mental, and emotional toll caring for an Alzheimer’s patient can take, caregivers spent $9.3 billion in additional healthcare for themselves.
Delaying the Disease to Allay the Cost
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s yet, but there are ways to delay its progress and the onset of symptoms. While medications can’t stop the damage done to brain cells, they can affect the chemicals that carry messages to the brain. There are several drugs designed to work this way on the market today, and patients (or their caregivers) should ask their primary care physicians about which one is right for them.
According to the USC’s study, even a five-year delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s could lower the financial burden on society by as much as 40 percent by 2050, and the prevalence of the disease among U.S. seniors would be lowered by 41 percent.
Treatments to Ease Symptoms
There are also treatments that caregivers can provide to help ease the suffering of their loved ones once symptoms begin. The Alzheimer’s Association lists several treatments, both traditional and alternative, to treat behavioral changes, distress, and sleep issues. These include providing a calming environment, redirecting attention when the patient becomes agitated, and maintaining a set dinner schedule to help signal bedtime.
Alzheimer’s disease exacts a heavy toll on caregivers and society alike. Steps to understand the disease and how to stop it are already being taken. But until a cure is found, delaying the onset of symptoms and easing our loved ones’ pain can go a long way in improving quality of life for patients and caregivers and reducing the financial burden of the disease as a whole.
When you’re caring for a senior with Alzheimer’s disease, a medical alert system can bring peace of mind to both caregivers and their loved ones.