The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple in the next 40 years, as baby boomers continue to age, according to a new study by researchers from Rush University Medical Center.
“It will place a huge burden on society, disabling more people who develop the disease, challenging their caregivers, and straining medical and social safety nets,” says study co-author Jennifer Weuve, assistant professor of medicine, Rush Institute for Healthy Aging at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Researchers say the new projections draw attention to an “urgent need” for more research, treatments and preventive strategies to reduce the impact of the epidemic. The study found that the total number of people with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2050 is projected to be 13.8 million, up from 4.7 million in 2010. About 7 million of those with the disease would be age 85 or older in 2050.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease with no known cure that damages patients’ memory and cognitive skills. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.
It’s also the disease Americans fear most: According to a poll from Home Instead Senior Care from last fall, Americans fear developing Alzheimer’s disease more than any other major life-threatening disease, including cancer, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. And it’s not just about having the disease themselves. When asked if it would be harder to receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or care for someone with the disease, Americans remain split equally down the middle.
For the study, researchers analyzed information from 10,802 African American and Caucasian people living in Chicago, ages 65 and older between 1993 and 2011. Participants were interviewed and assessed for dementia every three years. Age, race and level of education were factored into the research. The data was combined with U.S. death rates, education and current and future population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“All of these projections anticipate a future with a dramatic increase in the number of people with Alzheimer’s and should compel us to prepare for it,” Weuve says.