The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just put out a grim report about Alzheimer's disease in the United States.
Death rates from Alzheimer's climbed 55 percent from 1999 to 2014, CDC found, and the number of Americans afflicted is likely to rise rapidly in the coming years. About 5.5 million people 65 years and older have the disease - a wretched and fatal form of dementia that erases memories and ultimately can destroy mental and physical capacity. By 2050, that's expected to more than double to 13.8 million people.
The report is based on state- and county-level death certificate data from the National Vital Statistics System, and CDC researchers said the sharp increase in death rates may be due to the aging population, earlier diagnosis and greater reporting by physicians.
There's also the cruel fact that as we have become more sophisticated in our ability to operate and medicate away physical issues associated with aging - such as heart disease and stroke - there's more time for something to go awry with our minds.
The new data, released in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, shows some disturbing racial and ethnic disparities. The increase in death rates from Alzheimer's for African Americans was 99 percent; for Hispanics, 107 percent; and for Asian/Pacific Islanders, 151 percent. By comparison, the rate increase for whites was 54 percent.
George Vradenburg, the former AOL Time Warner senior executive who co-founded UsAgainstAlzheimer's with his late wife Trish, has long lobbied for a bigger commitment by government, industry and scientists to find a cure.
"The CDC findings raise needed public awareness of how fast this disease is growing and destroying families, and how we must stand firm against any action that reduces the nation's ability to innovate and speed cures," he said in a statement Thursday.
Another important change identified by the report is where those with Alzheimer's pass away. Though just over half still died in a nursing home or long-term-care facility in 2014, that percentage, as well as the percentage who died in a medical facility, was down significantly from 1999. During the same period, the proportion of people with the disease who died at home went from 13.9 percent to 24.9 percent. This is a key finding from a public health standpoint because of the impact on families.
"The debilitating nature of Alzheimer's means that there are financial and societal costs borne by patients and their families, and by states and counties that operate publicly funded long-term care facilities," the researchers wrote. According to the Alzheimer's Association, the disease and other dementias will cost the country $259 billion in health and care costs this year, with more than two-thirds covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
The researchers took the opportunity to recognize the toll the disease takes, not only on patients but on their loved ones. They called for more support for caregivers.
"Given the increasing number of Alzheimer's deaths and persons with Alzheimer's dying at home, there is a growing number of caregivers who likely can benefit from interventions like education, respite care, and home health assistance," they wrote, adding that "such interventions can lessen the burden of care-giving and can improve the care received by persons with Alzheimer's."
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