This neurodegenerative disease is one of the leading causes of disability and the sixth-leading cause of mortality in the U.S.
With annual healthcare costs of more than $250 billion, the disease also puts a significant strain on the nation’s healthcare system.
Additionally, unpaid caregivers spend over 18 billion hours tending to those living with Alzheimer’s.
Age is the most significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, as the population of the United States — along with that of the world — increases, it is important to ask: how many people will develop this form of dementia in the coming decades?
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set out to investigate, and they published their findings in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Researcher Kevin Matthews, who currently works at the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in Atlanta, GA, is the first author of the paper.
He and his colleagues also looked at race and ethnicity, which are two “important demographic risk factors” for Alzheimer’s. This made the study the first one to predict Alzheimer’s prevalence based on race and ethnicity.
U.S. Alzheimer’s burden will double by 2060
Matthews and his colleagues used population projections obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau to calculate the projected number of seniors with Alzheimer’s in the year 2060.
To calculate the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers accessed data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; specifically, they examined the number of Medicare Fee-for-Service beneficiaries aged 65 and above.
The study revealed that compared with 2014, when the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia was 5 million, in 2060, this number will grow to 13.9 million.
In terms of the population percentage, it represents an increase from 1.6 percent of the entire U.S. population in 2014 to 3.3 percent of the projected U.S. population in 2060.
“[Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias] burden will double to 3.3 percent by 2060 when 13.9 million Americans are projected to have the disease,” write the study authors.
Also, the authors caution that in 2060, 3.2 million Hispanic people and 2.2 million African American people aged 65 and above will be living with the condition.
African American people have the highest risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias; 13.8 percent of African American people who are aged 65 and over have the condition. Hispanic people fall second, with 12.2 percent, and non-Hispanic white people come third, with 10.3 percent.
American Indian people and Alaska Natives fall fourth in the lineup, with 9.1 percent, and Asian and Pacific Islanders come fifth, with 8.4 percent.
“These estimates,” conclude the authors, “can be used to guide planning and interventions related to caring for the [Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias] population and supporting caregivers.”
Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the CDC, comments on the findings, saying, “Early diagnosis is key to helping people and their families cope with loss of memory, navigate the healthcare system, and plan for their care in the future.”
“This study shows that as the U.S. population increases, the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias will rise, especially among minority populations.”
Dr. Robert R. Redfield
The study also draws attention to the well-being and support needs of those caring for people with dementias. An early diagnosis could help people at risk plan for specialized professional care.
Matthews says, “It is important for people who think their daily lives are impacted by memory loss to discuss these concerns with a healthcare provider.”
“An early assessment and diagnosis is key to planning for their healthcare needs, including long-term services and supports, as the disease progresses.”