If you have only a passing awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, in another decade or so you might be well aware of its devastating impact on the graying Baby Boomer generation, their families and American taxpayers. This memory-robbing disease is progressive, cruel and can’t be halted.
Alzheimer’s crushing blows are mainly personal. Discovering that a family member has just begun an inexorable, heartbreaking journey with this form of dementia evokes shock, despair, sadness and, eventually, exhaustion.
The other blow is financial. An Alzheimer’s patient is often incapacitated during their working years and, soon after diagnosis, has to give up an income-producing job that frequently supports a family. Those whose work life is over not only have their post-retirement dreams shattered, but watch their savings disappear as they struggle to pay for expensive care.
In 2013, more than 84,000 Americans died from Alzheimer’s disease, and 700,000 people died having shown signs of Alzheimer’s progression. The 71-percent increase in Alzheimer’s deaths between 2000 and 2013 are shocking, but certainly not surprising, given the influx of Baby Boomers entering their senior years.
Perhaps the most onerous blow is to society. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that last year, nearly 16 million family members and friends provided 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care for Alzheimer’s patients. As a result, this support group individually loses thousands of dollars in annual income from either reducing or quitting work to meet the demands of caregiving.
As taxpayers, we face a daunting future because of this dreadful disease. Today, 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease — including an estimated 200,000 who are younger than 65. By 2050, up to 16 million will have the disease. The costs to care for these patients is staggering: In 2016, the direct costs to American society will total an estimated $236 billion, with just under half of the costs borne by Medicare. That’s nearly one in every five Medicare dollars. In 2050, it will comprise just under half of Medicare’s total costs.
Unless science advances its research and finds more effective treatments or even a cure, Alzheimer’s disease will cost taxpayers $1.1 trillion in 2050. That figure is even more unfathomable understanding that those are 2016 dollars that have been calculated. It has all the markings of an impending national crisis.
Faced with those facts, it’s hard to understand why Congress has turned a mostly deaf ear to Alzheimer’s disease research. While a “War on Cancer” was recently implemented by President Obama — and Vice President Joe Biden given the task to head up a plan to attack this challenging and complex disease — Alzheimer’s research has languished until recently. Government funding for research this year totals just under $1 billion, a $350 million increase over last year. That’s a modest amount considering its looming burden on society.
It’s a good starting point, regardless. But in light of the hundreds of billions that Alzheimer’s is costing taxpayers this year alone, it’s reasonable for citizens to demand their legislators start a “skirmish,” if not a war, to fight this heartbreaking disease. Make your opinions known to our own congressional leaders. You can find their contact information at tinyurl.com/z5axtot.
— Do you have a loved one who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and need help navigating the health care system? Are you a caregiver? Resources are available in Kitsap County.
Contact the county Senior Information and Assistance office in Port Orchard, 360-337-5700. Professionals can provide an assessment of individual needs and refer you to programs and services.
In addition, an Alzheimer’s Association-sponsored support group for caregivers meets on the second Wednesday of each month at Group Health Medical Center. Contact Lora Lehner, 360-649-6793.