Talking about Alzheimer’s disease purely in terms of facts and statistics may seem a bit impersonal on one level. After all, this terrible condition affects families, and boiling it down to a series of numbers diminishes, at least on the surface, the struggles these families endure daily.
However, the statistics simply cannot be ignored, and they tell a story just as important: Alzheimer’s disease profoundly impacts millions of people; this includes patients and their families and caregivers. The overarching numbers combined with the personal heartaches felt by those affected shape how we care for sufferers and what should be done to lessen this impact in the coming decades.
In 2017, the facts about Alzheimer’s disease are perhaps more startling than ever. Here are some, courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association:
- Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in US: Alzheimer’s isn’t just a form of dementia that affects seniors—it’s a killer. More Americans die of it than diabetes, pneumonia, influenza, and suicide. Moreover, this statistic probably is likely even worse than reported because many seniors die of Alzheimer’s-related causes, such as heart failure or stroke, that show up in another death category.
- Since 2000, Alzheimer’s deaths have increased by 89 percent: Because people enter their senior years generally healthier than they did a few decades ago, life expectancy contributes to this statistic, as does the fact that the disease is better diagnosed and treated than in the last century.
- An estimated 5.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s; by 2050, that number may reach 16 million: Demographics, healthier lifestyles pre-diagnosis (e.g., fewer Americans smoke), advanced caregiving, and a greater awareness of dementia will cause this frightening spike over the next 30 years.
- Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias cost the U.S. $259 billion; by 2050, that number will top $1 trillion: The quadruple increase in costs by 2050 isn’t so surprising, considering the expected increase of Alzheimer’s patients and the inevitability that healthcare costs will continue rising. What’s truly startling is that the disease is already costing Americans $259 billion every year, in terms of care, hospital stays, and other expenses. Of this dollar amount, $56 billion are out-of-pocket costs incurred by families.
- Two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women: Alzheimer’s can strike anyone, but surprisingly, it’s more prevalent in women than men. The reasons for this disparity are still unclear; it’s not as simple as saying that women have a longer life expectancy and therefore are statistically more likely to be diagnosed.
- African-Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other dementias; Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely: These additional demographic examples are just as startling as the previous fact. Unfortunately, research has yet to show why African-Americans and Hispanics are more at risk.
- Six of 10 dementia patients will wander; if not found in 24 hours, half of wanderers will suffer serious injury or death: Wandering is major concern for Alzheimer’s disease caregivers—it’s not a random, rare occurrence. Technology is helping bring patients home safely, but knowing the signs of wandering and taking steps to prevent it are crucial for families and caregivers.
- Alzheimer’s is the only major cause of death for which there is no treatment or cure: Alzheimer’s disease is always fatal, and it the only cause of death among the top 10 that has no treatment or cure. Cancer, stroke, and heart disease are treatable, and accidents and suicide can be avoided, but Alzheimer’s offers no recovery or prevention. This fact underscores the importance of continued research as well as engaged caregiving to better counter the effects of the disease.
For sure, these facts are stark. PBS’s recent documentary, Alzheimer’s: Every Second Counts, details the social and economic consequences the United States faces with the growing Alzheimer’s epidemic. We engaged in a Facebook Live event after the initial airing of the documentary and discussed the toll Alzheimer’s has on patients, families, and caregivers:
If anything, we hope these facts give readers a better appreciation of how serious a problem Alzheimer’s disease is and the importance of funding and research. We also hope these facts strike a chord with families of dementia sufferers—they are not alone in the struggles, decisions, tragedies, and triumphs they experience with their loved ones.
Which Alzheimer’s disease fact is most surprising to you?