Overwhelming burden, cost of Alzheimer's to triple, report says

Overwhelming burden, cost of Alzheimer's to triple, report says
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POSTED: Sunday, September 22, 2013 - 12:00pm

UPDATED: Sunday, September 22, 2013 - 12:04pm

More than 35 million people worldwide live with dementia today, according to a new report. By 2050, that number is expected to more than triple to 115 million. The majority require constant care; they're dependent -- and that dependence can impact their loved ones in unmeasurable ways.

"People with dementia have special needs for care," a new report from Alzheimer's Disease International says. "They need more personal care, more hours of care, and more supervision, all of which is associated with greater caregiver strain, and higher costs."

The 2013 World Alzheimer's Report, titled "Journey of Care," examines global trends related to older people who need dementia care, including those with Alzheimer's disease.

In the early stages of dementia, patients become forgetful. They get confused about the time or their location. Decisions are difficult. As the disease progresses, patients have a harder time communicating and caring for themselves. By the final stage, patients can no longer recognize their loved ones, eat without assistance or even move.

People with Alzheimer's live on average four to eight years after they're diagnosed, but some may live 20 years beyond their initial diagnosis.

Caregivers, whether they're family or professionals, share many traits, the World Alzheimer Report notes; they often do demanding work with minimal training or preparation. They're also underpaid and undervalued. Professional caregivers usually earn minimum wage and often report poor job satisfaction. Family members, of course, earn nothing and make many personal sacrifices to care for a loved one.

"Because of the progressive nature of the disease and the length of its duration, Alzheimer's care needs only escalate, often to the point of impacting the caregiver's own health," Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer of the Alzheimer's Association, said in a statement.

And the problem is getting worse. Increasing life expectancies and an aging population are creating a group of seniors that's bigger than the working-age population that supports them, the report says. Approximately 4% of the population in developed countries now is currently over the age of 80; in 2050, experts predict, that number will rise to 10 percent.

The World Alzheimer's Report identifies four areas in which "specific actions could lead to improvements in the quality of care for people with dementia" and seven strategies to make this care more affordable. Overall, the report authors say, governments need to make dementia a bigger priority.

"No two families are alike in their needs for care and support, and we need to find ways to make care more person-centred, and care packages more flexible and individualised," the report says. "Earlier diagnosis enables the person with dementia to make decisions about the care that they will receive."

Alzheimer's disease cannot be prevented, cured or delayed. But experts say an earlier diagnosis may help patients live better day-to-day.

The Alzheimer's Association predicts that by 2030, U.S. costs for caring for the dementia population will total $1.2 trillion. To compare, the total cost worldwide in 2010 was about $604 billion.

"If dementia were a country, it would be the world's 21st largest economy," the report says, "ranking between Poland and Saudi Arabia."

If you or a loved one has Alzheimer's, visit www.alz.org or call the Alzheimer's Association's 24-hour hot line at (800) 272-3900. 

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