Dementia and Its Costs Soar Worldwide

We now spend more on Alzheimer's care than on cancer or heart disease.

September is World Alzheimer's Month. Alzheimer's Disease International sponsors this recognition event to call attention to the global impact of Alzheimer's, which knows no boundaries.

During the past year, national and international studies sounded the alarm about the need for governments worldwide to prepare for a skyrocketing number of cases of Alzheimer's disease and other dementia. With the aging of the population and a lower birthrate in most countries, families simply will not be able to meet this challenge on their own.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) recently presented a major study projecting that the cost of dementia care will double by 2040. The annual cost at present is between $159 billion and $215 billion (depending on whether informal, unpaid care is assigned a dollar value).

According to the RAND Corporation, which performed the study, this sharp increase can be attributed to the aging of the baby boomers. The current rate of dementia in people older than 70 is 14.7 percent, which today equals more than 5 million cases. In the absence of a cure, as the baby boom generation ages, up to 16 million people would be living with the disease by the year 2050.

NIA Director Dr. Richard J. Hodes says, "These findings reveal that the enormous emotional and physical demands of caring for people with dementia are accompanied by the similarly imposing financial burdens of dementia care. The national costs further compel us to do all we can to find effective treatments for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias as soon as possible."

Compounding the problem, we face a family caregiver shortage. The NIA's Richard J. Suzman, Ph.D., says, "Dementia costs currently rival those of cancer and heart disease. But within 30 years, dementia may be in a league of its own. Unless effective interventions are found to treat Alzheimer's, formal long-term dementia care costs will escalate for the baby boom generation, as they have fewer children available to provide unpaid, informal care."

The challenge is not confined to the U.S. alone. Alzheimer's Disease International calls dementia the largest global health challenge. The organization estimates that at present 44 million people around the world are living with dementia—a number that will rise to 76 million by 2030 and 135 million by 2050. Says Executive Director Marc Wortmann, "All nations must commit to a sustained increase in dementia research."

What can individuals do to raise awareness and promote action?

  • Continue to spread the word. Take part in recognition opportunities such as World Alzheimer's Month, the Alzheimer's Association's Walk to End Alzheimer's and other events.
  • Urge your local, state and national officials to expand research on dementia and services supporting people with dementia and family caregivers.
  • If you or a family member is living with memory loss, join organizations, advocacy groups and support groups.
  • Be aware, and help others be aware, that Alzheimer's disease and other dementia can strike anyone. Take time to learn about memory care centers, in-home care, Alzheimer's cafés, and other community programs and support resources, and share what you've learned with others.
  • Protect your brain and memory. Follow your healthcare provider’s advice, including good nutrition, exercise and healthcare. This step is so important that the World Alzheimer's Month 2014 theme is "Dementia: Can We Reduce the Risk?" This theme focuses on ways individuals can protect themselves with brain-healthy lifestyles.

Learn More

Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI) sponsors World Alzheimer's Month, as well as World Alzheimer's Day, observed on Sept. 21 each year. Visit the ADI website near that date to read the 2014 World Alzheimer's Report; you also can find the annual reports from previous years, which have focused on Alzheimer's caregivers, reducing the stigma and isolation associated with Alzheimer's, and raising awareness of the disease.

The Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center, part of the National Institute on Aging, offers information and updates for people and their families who are dealing with the challenges of dementia.

Find the entire RAND Corporation "Monetary Costs of Dementia in the United States" study on the website of the New England Journal of Medicine

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.