According to the 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, there are more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s. In five years, that number is expected to skyrocket by 20 percent. Also, the death rate for Alzheimer’s disease is growing at an alarming rate.
“In the last eight years, deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 145 percent,” said Nikki Wegner, Program Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association. “Things like heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, those continue to decrease, just based on we know a lot more about those diseases, the treatments are working. With Alzheimer’s disease, we haven’t been able to find that yet.”
In North Dakota, Alzheimer’s disease is now the fourth leading cause of death, but nationwide it’s the sixth leading cause.
Wegner said no one really has a clue why the death rate is higher in the state — for now, only guesses.
“Some people speculate that we do have a population a little higher than most states of people over the age of 65; however, that’s not the only reason. We do see states higher in the percentage of that age group who don’t have a higher percentage than us,” Wegner noted.
She said with no known cure and no known cause, it’s impossible to stop the epidemic.
“There are lots of research studies looking at different medications or different lifestyle changes that, maybe someday, we can prove that it impacts the course of this disease — but right now, unfortunately, no,” Wegner said.
And maybe the biggest concern for the future is preparedness.
The Facts and Figures report examined the medical profession’s readiness to meet the growing demands for dementia care in America.
The doctors surveyed expect a rise in patients, but half said the medical profession is not prepared to meet this demand.
The report also touched on the increasing costs of care.
Between Medicare, Medicaid, insurance and out of pocket, the current cost of caring for Alzheimer’s patients nationwide is $305 billion.
That number is expected to be at $1.1 trillion by 2050.
Wegner said there is hope, especially in the work the Alzheimer’s Association is doing to help doctors make earlier diagnoses, advocacy work with lawmakers, research and the programs and education provided to those impacted by Alzheimer’s to help them live better and longer.