In the United States, the healthcare system, trained caregivers and medical personnel attempt to give the best possible standards of care for their citizens.
From the most complicated diseases and ailments like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or fibromyalgia, to simple conditions such as the common cold and the stomach flu, medical professionals and caregivers are tasked with providing the best possible care to patients who may be suffering from any and all illnesses. But, that being said, the healthcare system is currently buckling under the weight of what it costs to diagnose and provide care for Alzheimer’s patients, a figure which has recently escalated to $277 billion in costs.
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disorder associated with the formation of tangles and plaque in the brain, coupled with a decrease in brain matter, which severely cripples several of the patient’s abilities, starting with mild short-term memory loss, which progresses rapidly until many other skills are lost. With time, the patient becomes increasingly disoriented and easily confused, and progressively loses their ability to communicate.
In the disease’s final stages, the ability to recognize family and friends is lost, and the patient becomes fully dependent on others to perform most tasks, including cleaning after themselves, cooking, eating, maintaining general hygiene, and even walking from point to point. Those who are diagnosed with this condition usually expire within 6 to 8 years due to loss of bodily functions necessary to sustain life.
Approximately 5.5 to 5.7 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s, a figure that puts great stress on both the healthcare system as well as on the caregivers who are providing aid and assistance to these patients that, due to their disease, can’t fend for themselves. A great percentage of these patients (approximately 5 percent) are estimated to be aged 65 or older, an age that renders them particularly prone to other complications caused indirectly by Alzheimer’s, such as pressure ulcers from being bedridden for extended periods of time, or serious injuries from falls due to increasing instability while walking.
Furthermore, it is estimated that this figure will increase to almost 29 percent by the year 2025, putting the total number of senior citizens suffering from Alzheimer’s to almost 7.1 million. While research to discover new methods for treating and even curing Alzheimer’s is underway, the number of patients that suffer from this condition is bound to increase. Moreover, if research proves to be ineffective, the number of Alzheimer’s patients is estimated to be somewhere around 13.8 million by the year 2050, according to an online report published earlier this March by the Alzheimer’s Association.
All these numbers translate to a new case of Alzheimer’s surfacing every 65 seconds and, by the year 2050, this number will increase to a new case every 33 seconds. Furthermore, while research has uncovered new means to reduce deaths from other major causes, scientists have been left dumbfounded by Alzheimer’s, which continues to increase as a major cause of death; a number that has more than doubled (123 percent) from the year 2000 to 2015. As a point of reference, the deaths by heart disease — which were originally the leading cause of death in years past — have decreased by 11 percent in the same time period.
According to Keith Fargo, the director of several programs and campaigns of the Alzheimer’s Association, these numbers only serve to shed light on the increasing emotional, financial, and physical toll that this disease puts on the patients, families, healthcare professionals, and caregivers of the nation. Furthermore, the director continued by stating that, by effectively failing to find a cure for this disease, the prevalence, mortality rates, and costs will only continue to increase, and Alzheimer’s will continuously grow as a burden to all society.
As of this moment, the costs to treat Alzheimer’s has, climbed to the staggering figure of $277 billion, and that’s not including caregivers who are unpaid. Of that amount, approximately $186 billion are directly incurred by Medicare and Medicaid, while the rest consists of out-of-pocket costs covered by both the patient’s family and caregivers.
This year marks the second time in a row that the cost to provide care to Alzheimer’s patients have cost more than a quarter trillion dollars, and this number will only continue to rise if an alternative is not discovered. It is estimated that this number may increase to $1.1 billion (in 2018 dollars, not accounting for the inflation of the time) in 2050 if this is the case.
Costs to the U.S government aside, studies have shown that most of the burden of this disease are faced by the patients' friends, family, and caregivers, who are exposed to significant threats to their physical, mental, and financial well-being.
In 2017, the cost to care for a familiar with Alzheimer’s was estimated to be approximately $329,360, 70 percent of which is usually assumed directly by the family from their own pocket. Furthermore, in that same year, more than 16 million caregivers provided approximately 18.4 billion hours of unpaid care to these patients, a service that is worth around $232 billion, which is not added to the staggering expenses.
In order to properly address the issue, which is the cost of providing aid to those suffering from Alzheimer’s, a multidimensional approach is necessary. Improvements in early diagnosis methods could help save the nation approximately $7.9 trillion in health and long-term costs, which is a welcome respite from the grim future currently portrayed by the illness.
The endgame consists in finding a more permanent solution to the Alzheimer’s issue, as the costs for tending to these patients will only continue to increase as the number of cases rises. Until that time comes, Alzheimer’s will continue to be among the top 10 causes of death that can’t be cured, slowed, or prevented in any way.