The Alzheimer’s Disease Crisis – By the Numbers (2021)

Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging—it is a devastating disease.

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Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias can be emotionally and financially ruinous for people living with the disease, their caregivers and families, and society at large. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias have catastrophic healthcare, economic, and social impacts—and these impacts are rapidly growing.

Barron’s Magazine describes it as the “coming Alzheimer’s crisis;” The Economist describes the rising prevalence of dementia as “a global emergency.”

Someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s every 60 seconds. By 2050 this is projected to be every 33 seconds.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memories and thinking skills. Alzheimer’s often starts 5, 10, or even 20 years before symptoms appear. Symptoms usually start with difficulty remembering new information. In advanced stages, symptoms include confusion, mood and behavior changes, and inability to care for one’s self and perform basic life tasks. Alzheimer’s is ultimately fatal.

The risks and ramifications extend beyond Alzheimer’s disease itself. People living with Alzheimer’s are twice as likely to get the COVID-19 virus than other people - and they also face accelerated cognitive decline from well-intended quarantine measures. (Source: Alzheimer’s & Dementia, The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association; February 2021 // Additional article on the study: NY Times, 2021)

It is vital that our nation find effective treatments, ways to prevent or reduce the risks, and flatten the projected growth curve for Alzheimer’s disease. UsAgainstAlzheimer’s is working to conquer this devastating disease.

Growing Numbers of People with Alzheimer’s in the U.S.

About 6.2 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Of the total U.S. population, more than 1 in 9 people (11.3%) age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s. The percentage of people with Alzheimer’s increases with age: 5.3% of people ages 65 to 74, 13.8% of people ages 75 to 84, and 34.6% of people 85 and older.

By 2050, 12.7 million Americans 65 and older will have Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is the only top-10 cause of death in the U.S. with no known cure.

  • 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, killing more than breast and prostate cancer combined.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is listed as the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. States, but it may cause more deaths than is recognized by official sources.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic caused Alzheimer’s deaths to increase by approximately 16% more than expected.
  • Deaths due to Alzheimer’s between 2000 and 2019 have more than doubled, increasing 145%. During the same time period, deaths from heart disease (the nation’s No. 1 killer) increased 7.3%.

Higher Prevalence of Alzheimer’s and Dementia for Women

  • 65% of Alzheimer’s patients are women.
  • Of the 6.2 million people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s in the United States, 3.8 million are women and 2.4 million are men.

Greater Risks of Alzheimer’s and Dementia for Blacks and Latinos

  • 18.6% of Blacks and 14% of Hispanics age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s compared with 10% of White older adults (Data from Chicago Health and Aging Project [CHAP] study).

    • Other prevalence studies also indicate that older Blacks are about twice
      as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older Whites.
  • Older Hispanics are about one and one-half times as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older Whites.
  • By 2030, 40% of Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. will be Latino/Black

High Costs and Effects of Caregiving

  • The estimated number of caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in 2020 is 11.2 million.
  • Caregivers provided 15.3 billion hours of unpaid care in 2020, valued at almost $257 billion, to people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
  • Two-thirds of dementia caregivers are women.
  • The prevalence of depression is higher among dementia caregivers (30% to 40%) than other caregivers, such as those who provide help to individuals with schizophrenia (20%) or stroke (19%).

A Costly and Growing National Crisis

  • In 2021, the total national cost of caring for people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is projected to reach $355 billion. This number does not include the estimated $257 billion price of unpaid caregiving.
    • Medicare and Medicaid are expected to cover $239 billion, or 67%, of the total health care and long-term care payments for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Out-of-pocket spending is expected to be $76 billion, or 22% of total payments.
  • By 2050, Alzheimer's is projected to cost more than $1.1 trillion (in 2021 dollars),  without a treatment or other change to the trajectory.

Source: Alzheimer’s Association’s 2021 Facts & Figures Report

Alzheimer’s is the Most-Feared Disease of Older Americans

  • Retirees are more fearful of Alzheimer’s than infectious diseases such as COVID-19, as well as cancer, strokes or heart attacks. (2020 Edward Jones/Age Wave study conducted by Harris Poll)
    • Findings showed one-in-three (32 percent) of retirees listed Alzheimer’s as the chronic disease they feared most, 11 points higher than cancer and 13 points more than contagious diseases such as COVID-19.

A Disease that is Too-Often Under-Diagnosed

  • Alzheimer’s is dangerously and chronically under-diagnosed: more than 60% of Alzheimer’s cases in patients over 65 are not diagnosed, a figure that would be considered unacceptable in cancer care or heart disease prevention. (Source: ACT on Alzheimer’s; 2016)

Alzheimer’s is a global crisis that requires a global solution. 

It is a grave threat to the world’s health and finances if not stopped. About 50 million people worldwide have some form of dementia, and someone in the world develops dementia every three seconds.

When the world has faced catastrophic challenges before, nations have marshaled significant resources behind clear goals and objectives to achieve great things. For example, the world committed to ambitious, aggressive, and well-funded efforts to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Those efforts have paid significant dividends in lives saved and economic development fostered.

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