The number of people afflicted with Alzheimer's disease is expected to reach 13.8 million by 2050 — far more than previously projected — according to a new study in the journal Neurology, and the cost to care for patients could top $1 trillion a year.
The Neurology study was provided by the Alzheimer's Association and the National Institute on Aging, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. Researchers used models based on current cases to extrapolate projections for the year 2050. They calculated that 1.3 million people between the ages of 65 and 74 would have Alzheimer's, along with 5.4 million 75- to 84-year-olds and 7 million people over 85. This makes a total of 13.8 million Alzheimer's patients in 2050.
Alzheimer's is a progressive brain disease that damages patients' memory and cognitive skills, ultimately leaving them unable to care for themselves. Anywhere from 60% to 80% of dementia cases are believed to be a consequence of Alzheimer's.
With people living longer than ever before, and Baby Boomers set to swell the proportion of seniors, a rise in Alzheimer's is a serious issue.
While deaths from breast and prostate cancer, heart disease and HIV all fell between 2000 and 2008, the number of Alzheimer's-related deaths grew by two-thirds in the same period. While the former diseases have seen medical advances in the last decade, the spike in Alzheimer's is largely due to longer lifespans.
The federal government responded in 2011 by starting the National Alzheimer's Project. The project aims to have drugs available to treat Alzheimer's by 2025. "In the next five or six years, we'll have some indication whether this strategy with these particular kinds of drugs works," said Neil Buckholtz, director of the National Institute on Aging's Division of Neuroscience.