A recently released report takes a "what if" approach to measure the impact of a hypothetical treatment that delays the onset of Alzheimer's disease by five years. Changing the Trajectory of Alzheimer's Disease: How a Treatment by 2025 Saves Lives and Dollars demonstrates that within the first five years of such a therapy, the number of Americans with an Alzheimer's diagnosis would decline by 2.5 million and save all payers – Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers and families – more than $83 billion.
"This Alzheimer's Association report brings new focus to the savings that could be realized – both in terms of lives and dollars – by developing a therapy for Alzheimer's disease," said Ronald C. Petersen, PhD, MD, Director of Mayo Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and Mayo Clinic Study of Aging.
Without a change in direction, the report revealed the number of Americans age 65 and older living with Alzheimer's disease will increase from today's 5.1 million (11 percent of seniors) to 13.5 million (16 percent of seniors) in 2050.
"The take-home message here," said Dr. Petersen, "is that we need to more adequately fund Alzheimer's research."
The Cost of Caring
In 2015, Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers and families will pay an estimated total of $226 billion caring for people with Alzheimer's. Government payers – Medicare and Medicaid – will cover 68 percent of those costs. Based on the current trajectory, these costs will climb to more than $1.1 trillion in 2050, with Medicare and Medicaid covering nearly 70 percent of the costs.
How will this impact individuals with Alzheimer's and their families? On the current path, "out-of-pocket" costs for people with Alzheimer's and their families will increase about 350 percent from $44 billion in 2015 to $198 billion in 2050.
"Alzheimer's disease takes a tremendous emotional toll on families," Dr. Petersen said. "At the same time, there is the economic reality of what it costs families and our government to care for people with Alzheimer's. No doubt about it, this is a very expensive disease."
The Return on Research
The report highlights the positive impact of a treatment that would delay the onset of Alzheimer's by five years. For example, a treatment introduced in 2025 would decrease the number of Americans with Alzheimer's in 2050 to 7.8 million, a 42 percent decline from the number expected to have Alzheimer's barring the treatment.
How would this hypothetical 2025 treatment impact the cost associated with caring for people with Alzheimer's? The Alzheimer's Association report calculates it would reduce total costs to all payers by $367 billion in 2050. Individuals and families would experience a more than $87 billion reduction in out-of-pocket costs in 2050.
"I hope what people take from this report is that the costs are intolerable and that our country needs to invest in Alzheimer's research to change these numbers," said Dr. Petersen. "This cannot wait."