Americans have been getting mixed messages about Alzheimer’s disease. Two years ago, headlines proclaimed an:
“optimistic trend of declining population dementia risk in high-income countries over the past 25 years.”
The decline in dementia was attributed to aggressive treatment of high blood pressure and cholesterol (Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, March 26, 2015). But a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that deaths from this dreaded condition are actually on the increase in the U.S. (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 26, 2017).
The Bad News from the CDC:
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and there has been an increase in the proportion of deaths due to this condition. This was an increase of 55 percent between 1999 and 2014.
This was partly explained by the graying of America. U.S. citizens are getting older, which helps to explain why more are suffering from dementia. Let’s face it, the baby boomers are reaching retirement age.
Dementia Victims Dying at Home:
More people with Alzheimer’s disease are dying at home. In 1999, the proportion passing away at home was 13.9%; in 2014, it was 24.9%. According to the CDC, this increase in age-adjusted death rates and the greater proportion dying at home could place a greater burden on caregivers.
Financial considerations might explain why many people with dementia are dying at home. There are some misunderstandings that come as a rude awakening to families and care givers.
Who Pays for Nursing Home Care?
Medicare pays for health care for people over 65. It does not, however, pay for long-term care in a nursing home. That means that people with dementia have to pay out of pocket for long-term care. A decent nursing home capable of treating people with Alzheimer’s disease can cost more than $80,000 a year. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, that’s for a semi-private room. A private room can cost more than $90,000 annually.
Medicaid will pay for nursing home care, but there are strict financial eligibility requirements. People with savings don’t usually qualify until they have spent most of their money. The state will step in then, but usually not before. This often comes as a huge surprise to people who have acted responsibly and saved diligently for retirement. They did not anticipate spending their life savings on nursing home care for a spouse.
In the current fiscal and political climate, states are trying hard to cut back on their Medicaid expenses. With less federal support in the foreseeable future, there is likely to be less money available for people with Alzheimer’s disease. That means families will have to bear the burden.
The Cost of Alzheimer’s Disease Care:
The new report from the CDC points out that :
“total health and long-term care costs for persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in the United States will total $259 billion in 2017…”
That is not sustainable, especially since Medicaid funding will likely be cut dramatically over the next decade. Even if an effective medication were developed, the drug company would likely charge so much it would break the bank.
Hope for the Future?
There is no cure on the horizon. Most of the medications that have been studied over the last decade or two have flamed out. Drug companies have little, if anything, to show for billions spent on Alzheimer’s disease research. Do not expect the pharmaceutical industry to pull a rabbit out of its hat anytime soon when it comes to dementia drugs.
The authors of the new CDC report recommend providing caregiver interventions such as home health care assistance, respite care and education about the condition. Unfortunately, if Medicaid budgets are restricted, such services are unlikely to be expanded anytime soon.
It is estimated that 5.4 million Americans currently suffer from dementia. That number is predicted to grow exponentially over the next few decades. One expert concluded that eventually there will be two kinds of people. Those with Alzheimer’s disease and those caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease. How will our society cope with this burden?
Here is a link to a one-hour interview we did with one of the country’s experts in this field. He does offer some hopeful research about prevention. Listen to the streaming audio or the podcast for free:
Share your own thoughts about Alzheimer’s disease below in the comment section.