Alzheimer’s disease was identified in 1906. Medical science can’t identify the cause, has few treatments, no cure and struggles to diagnose it.
“It’s the sixth leading cause of death and we can’t even diagnose it without an autopsy,” said Wanda Demarest, who runs the county Senior Day Care Center.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.2 million Americans older than 65 had Alzheimer’s Disease in 2012. That number is expected to hit 6.7 million by 2025. Barring a medical breakthrough, research cited by the association projects that 11 million to 16 million Americans will be living with Alzheimer’s by 2050.
Data on the prevalence of other non-Alzheimer’s dementias is unclear, but the total cost of caring for Americans suffering from dementia last year is not: $200 billion.
Medicare and Medicaid picked up 70 percent of the cost, but Americans spent $34 billion out of pocket on health care for those with dementia, according to the research cited by the association.
One reason the cost is so high is that roughly two-thirds of those diagnosed with some form of dementia reside in nursing homes at an average annual care cost of $69,066, compared to $25,804 for those who stay home.
But those who stay home need help. Enter the caregiver.
The harsh economics of eldercare explain why more than 15 million Americans, mostly family members, are currently providing unpaid care for someone with dementia. California tops the list with 1.5 million unpaid caregivers.
These unsung healthcare heroes bear the physical, emotional and financial burden of guiding a loved one or friend through the uncharted water of dementia. Last year they provided an average of 21.9 hours of care each week, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Nationally, that adds up to 17.4 billion hours last year. At just over $12 per hour, that’s a $210 billion gift to our loved ones and the national healthcare system.
Demarest sees her Senior Day Care Center as a front line weapon in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. With an estimated tripling of the current Alzheimer’s caseload projected by 2050, the disease is clearly winning the war.