Primary care doctors expect to see increase in patients with dementia in next five years | Alzheimer's Prevention Registry

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April 22, 2020

Primary care doctors expect to see increase in patients with dementia in next five years

By Alzheimer's Prevention Bulletin

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The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease continues to grow as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, according to the latest Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report. The report is a survey of the most recent research on incidence, mortality, cost of care and impact on caregivers. In addition, a special report focuses on the preparedness of primary care physicians to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s and other dementias in their practices.

The report is chockful of statistics too numerous to discuss here. We will focus on the top numbers and explain some of the findings about caregivers and primary care physicians. We encourage you to read the entire report at your leisure.

Currently more than 5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, that number is expected to be 13.8 million. When you do the math, this means that one in 10 people 65 and older has Alzheimer’s, and almost 33% of them are women. Alzheimer’s is now the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., and the 5th leading cause over the age of 65.

These statistics paint a picture of the burden Alzheimer’s places on caregivers, the government and the health care system.

  • In 2020, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the nation $305 billion. By 2050, this number is expected to be as high to $1.1 trillion.
  • More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care to loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, valued at almost $244 billion.
  • 82% of primary care physicians feel they are at the front lines of caring for people with dementia. Alarmingly, 50% of these physicians believe the medical community is not ready for the growing number of people with dementia.
  • Deaths from Alzheimer’s increased by 146% over the last eight years, while deaths from heart disease decreased by 7.8%.

Caregivers

Most of the help and care provided to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias (83%) is provided from family members, friends or other unpaid caregivers. This puts an extraordinary burden on caregivers who often report substantial emotional, financial and physician challenges.

  • About 30% of caregivers are 65 and older.
  • Around 33% of caregivers are women. Over one-third of dementia caregivers are daughters.
  • 66% of caregivers live with the person with dementia.
  • About 25% of caregivers are part of the sandwich generation, also caring for children under 18.

How prepared are doctors?

This year, the Alzheimer’s Association embarked on a special study to determine the preparedness of doctors in the community to care for people with dementia. The study illustrates a current and future shortage in specialist care – geriatricians, neurologists, geriatric psychiatrists and neuropsychologists – that places a larger burden on primary care physicians (PCP).

PCPs recognize they are on the front lines of providing care to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Yet they report they are not fully prepared for this role. They are hampered by the shortage of specialists and limited education in caring for dementia patients.

The study’s findings have prompted the Alzheimer’s Association to recommend a series of actions to improve the future of Alzheimer’s care. These include:

  • Scholarship and loan forgiveness programs to increase the number of physicians in rural areas and encourage osteopathic medical students to become PCPs.
  • More funding of family medicine departments at U.S. medical schools.
  • Additional funding for programs that build more capacity in primary care such as telehealth.
  • Grow and expand coordinated care programs which employ other types of caregivers in addition to physicians.

While PCPs feel a desire to continue to learn more about caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, they face a variety of roadblocks including a lack of training opportunities and the time to take advantage of the ones that do exist. At the Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry, it is our hope that solutions can be found to expand the number of geriatric providers and give primary care physicians the tools they need to care for their dementia patients.

Finally, please continue to visit the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry to explore study opportunities and learn more about the work we are doing to end Alzheimer’s before losing another generation.