U.S. dementia care costs going to rise

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The costs of caring for people with dementia in the United States in 2010 were between $159 billion to $215 billion, and those costs could rise dramatically with the increase in the numbers of older people in coming decades, according to estimates by researchers at RAND Corp. and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The researchers found these costs of care comparable to, if not greater than, those for heart disease and cancer.

The study, supported by the National Institutes of Health and published April 4 in The New England Journal of Medicine, totaled direct medical expenditures and costs attributable to the vast network of informal, unpaid care that supports people with dementia.

Depending on how informal care is calculated, national expenditures in 2010 for dementia among people aged 71 and older were found to be $159 billion to $215 billion.

Dementia is a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior; the most common form is Alzheimer’s.

The researchers first looked at care purchased in the health care market – formal costs for nursing homes, Medicare, and out-of-pocket expenses. The direct costs of dementia care purchased in the market were estimated to be $109 billion in 2010, exceeding direct health costs for heart disease ($102 billion) and cancer ($77 billion) that same year.

Adding informal, unpaid care to the equation as much as doubled the estimated total national costs for dementia care. The study estimated full costs per case of dementia in 2010 at $41,000 to $56,000. The lower number accounts for foregone wages among caregivers, while the higher figure valued hours of informal care as the equivalent of formal paid care. The range of national expenditures was tallied based on an estimated prevalence of dementia of 14.7 percent in the U.S. population older than 70.

The researchers also project skyrocketing costs as the baby boom grows older; the Bureau of the Census estimates that the population age 65 and older will double to about 72 million over the next 20 years. Rates of dementia increase with age, and unless new ways are found to treat and effectively prevent it, national health expenditures for dementia could come close to doubling by 2040, as the aging population increases and assuming the rate of dementia remains the same.

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.

Source: National Institutes of Health, USA

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