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As the baby boomer generation rapidly approaches retirement age, the U.S. is projected to experience a radical demographic shift. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about one in five residents in the U.S. will reach retirement age (over 65) by the 2030s. For the first time in U.S. history, seniors will soon outnumber children under 18.
This aging of the population will have far-reaching economic and social ramifications, especially when it comes to healthcare needs. Specifically, diseases that typically affect the elderly will become more prevalent in the U.S. One of the most common illnesses among people over the age of 65 is Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. It is a neurocognitive disorder that affects a person’s memory. Alzheimer’s typically starts with mild memory loss and sometimes progresses to hindering a person’s speech, thought process, and ability to respond to his/her surroundings. The exact cause of the disease is unknown and it currently has no cure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The onset of the disease usually occurs after the age of 60, and the risk of Alzheimer’s increases significantly with age. Currently, 11 percent of American adults over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s.
Unlike other medical conditions associated with aging, such as heart attacks or strokes, the development of Alzheimer’s disease is often a much slower process. Nevertheless, this disease can still result in death. In 2017, more than 120,000 deaths were a result of Alzheimer’s disease. Of these cases, 80,000 were among Americans over the age of 85.
Interestingly, about two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. While there is no definitive explanation for the gender discrepancy, some medical experts postulate that reasons might include women’s higher life expectancy. Additionally, the fact that more men are likely to die from other causes, such as heart disease, is also considered. In 2017, 84,079 women and 37,325 men died as a result of Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, with death rates on the rise. Between 2000 and 2017, deaths due to Alzheimer’s rose by 145 percent. This change is in stark contrast to other illnesses that are also leading causes of death. Heart disease and influenza experienced a net decrease in deaths over the same period of time. Forms of dementia tend to be under-reported on death certificates because it is difficult to distinguish whether a person died because of dementia or if they only had dementia at the time of their death. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of older adults dying from Alzheimer’s may be much higher than what is reported.
Even when adjusting for age, the death rate due to Alzheimer’s disease continues to rise. The age-adjusted death rate due to Alzheimer’s has almost doubled since 1999. In 2018, the age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 people was 31. Over a span of 15-years, the Alzheimer’s death rate increased 20 percent for the 65 to 74 age group, 52 percent for the 75 to 84 age group, and 76 percent for the 85 and older age group.
As Alzheimer’s continues to claim lives, its financial burden on society also remains impactful. Not only does the disease affect individual patients, but also their family members and taxpayers who fund government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the average annual total medicare payments per beneficiary with Alzheimer’s was $26,017 in 2017. Further, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that in 2018, the total cost of treating Alzheimer’s disease—including assisted living facilities, home health care, and other medical treatment—was around $277 billion. The association estimates these costs will more than double by 2035 and continue rising as the 65+ population reaches more than 85 million by 2050.
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, advances in modern medicine may aid the severity of the condition. The use of biomarkers allows doctors to detect the disease earlier and intervene by treating the symptoms. Research from Precision Health Economics on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association has estimated that early detection could save America nearly $8 trillion when treating people who will develop the disease.
Given current population trends, Alzheimer’s will become an even larger national issue over the next few years—disproportionately impacting states with large senior populations. For example, the total number of people with Alzheimer’s disease in Alaska is expected to increase by 46.7 percent by 2025, compared to only 1.1 percent in the District of Columbia. Overall, Southern and Western states are projected to experience the greatest percentage increase in the number of people with Alzheimer’s.
To find which states have the highest rates of Alzheimer’s disease currently, researchers at A Place For Mom analyzed prevalence and cost statistics from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. For this analysis, states were ranked by their prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. In the event of a tie, the state with the higher age-adjusted death rate was ranked higher. The highest rates of Alzheimer’s are located in the Northeastern or Southern states.