What Is The Cost Of Alzheimer's Disease On Society?

Published: Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - 1:29pm
Updated: Monday, February 22, 2021 - 11:50am
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LAUREN GILGER: Alzheimer’s is one of the costliest diseases, not just to the individual or family that’s living it, but to society as a whole. A new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease this week found that we could be grossly underestimating the true cost of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Joining me now to talk about this is KJZZ's Kathy Ritchie. Good morning, Kathy.

KATHY RITCHIE: Good morning.

GILGER: So, the report found that we’re really just looking at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the economic costs of dementia right now, what are the current cost estimates? 

RITCHIE: According to the study and the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia, which by the way is an umbrella term that encompasses Alzheimer’s and other conditions like vascular dementia, cost the U.S. about $290 billion a year, and that number could go as high as $1.1 trillion by 2050.

GILGER: Wow. And this study is saying that we’re not taking into account all of the costs associated with Alzheimer’s, what are we missing?

RITCHIE: I talked to Dr. Alireza Atri, who is the director of the Banner Sun Health Research Institute about that. He also happens to be one of the study authors and really what they’re looking at are the costs over a chunk of time. Remember, you don’t just wake up with dementia.

ALIREZA ATRI: When an individual with Alzheimer’s disease when they finally get the diagnosis, if you look back, you realize they may have multiple hospitalizations, and then having a fall. These are incredibly related.

GILGER: So, we’re talking cumulative costs. What about indirect costs? Like the costs to caregivers? I would guess they have to pay some price, especially if they have to change their life to provide care?

RITCHIE: You’re absolutely right, they do pay price and remember, women are typically the caregivers. Here’s Dr. Atri again.

ATRI: their health is actually affected. So when you look at someone who is a care partner or caregiver, their health care costs are substantially higher, their comorbidities and quality of life is substantially different for someone who is not providing this care.

RITCHIE: And they might leave the workforce to provide care and that can ding their social security income down the road and any savings potential. The same goes for employers, so think about this, caregivers sometimes take more time off work or have to transition to part time work to provide care or they may be tired and not as productive. Again, that’s all part of this study.

GILGER: So what’s the solution here? Is there one?

RITCHIE: That’s the thing. Dr. Atri says we have to come up with better ways to calculate the true costs and right now it’s not there. He’s hoping this will be a call to action for policy makers and even leaders around the world. This study was an international collaboration with researchers from the UK and Spain.

GILGER: KJZZ's Kathy Ritchie. Thanks, Kathy.

RITCHIE: Thank you.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated to correct the spelling of Dr. Alireza Atri's name. 

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