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Rising Alzheimer's cases in U.S. leads to inevitable question: How to pay for it all?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 15th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The ever-rising number of Alzheimer's cases in the U.S. means that the cost of maintenance and care will likely triple to 13.8 million by 2050. These alarming statistics are raising concerns about the nation's ability to pay for it all. Patients with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia spend three times as much on health care than patients with other types of illnesses, the Alzheimer's Association says.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The cost of caring for Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia will increase 500 percent by 2050, reaching $1.1 trillion, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Medicare patients with Alzheimer's and other dementias spent $43,847 on health care and long-term care services, compared to $13,879 spent by patients without those illnesses, the association said in a 2012 report.

"If you think you're going to solve our fiscal entitlement process without addressing one of the underlying causes (Alzheimer's costs) you're not getting to the heart of the problem," Robert Egge, vice president of public affairs for the Alzheimer's Association says.

Alzheimer's is currently an incurable, degenerative brain-wasting disease that robs the patient of memory. The condition eventually erases personality, making even such routine tasks such as dressing and bathing impossible. These patients also spend more time hospitalized than people without these illnesses.

"The bottom line is when you have a chronic condition and you add dementia, you have higher costs," Julie Bynum, a physician and associate director of the Center for Health Policy says.

"They can't self-manage their medications or monitor their diets and watch out for things like how much salt or sugar they're eating. If they also have diabetes or hypertension, two other conditions common in the older population, they need others to take care of them," she says.

In addition, many costs associated with Alzheimer's care are not reimbursed. Out-of-pocket costs for a family with a loved one who has dementia were $8,216 compared to $2,500 for patients with other types of conditions.

The research dollars for Alzheimer's are in their "infancy," Jennifer Weuve, an assistant professor of medicine at Rush Institute for Healthy Living in Chicago.

The U.S. government last year set a goal of developing preventive treatment for Alzheimer's by 2025 and increased research funding through the National Institutes of Health to $606 million last year, exceeding $500 million for the first time. This still lags behind funding for other diseases: $6 billion is spent on cancer research, $3 billion on research for HIV/AIDS.

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