Study warns of Alzheimer’s crisis

Experts say 13 million Americans will likely have
the disease by 2050.
Thursday, August 21, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:42 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Alzheimer’s disease will spread more rapidly than previously believed, according to a new national study on the disease that destroys brain cells and leads to memory loss and dementia.

“Unless things change dramatically, we are going to have 12 to 14 million Alzheimer’s patients in the country,” said Dr. Armon Yanders, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Research Program at MU. “It is one of the major health crises facing the country over the next 50 years.”

About 13 million Americans will likely suffer from Alzheimer’s by 2050, millions more than previously believed, as reported in the current issue of the Archives of Neurology. Four million Americans currently have the disease.

The study, “Alzheimer’s Disease in the U.S. Population,” predicted a 27 percent increase in Alzheimer’s victims by 2020 and a 70 percent rise by 2030. The same researchers of a 1990 study had previously estimated about 10.2 million Alzheimer’s cases by 2050.

More than 100,000 Missourians suffer from Alzheimer’s, including 1,400 Boone County residents, according to Janet Hart, community development specialist at the Alzheimer’s Association Mid-Missouri Chapter.

State budget cuts are affecting the amount of funding Columbia hospitals and research groups might receive for Alzheimer’s research.

“We have less this year than ever before due to state cuts,” Yanders said.

The Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Research Program based at MU only received $198,000 from the state to fund projects requesting more than $892,000, according to Yanders.

The Alzheimer’s Association is lobbying Congress to increase federal funding of research to $1 billion annually, as compared to the $640 million the National Institutes of Health will spend to study the disease in 2003.

The expected increase in Alzheimer’s cases not only affects the aging population but also their caregivers. Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient can be a 24-hour responsibility and a stressful experience for family members who provide the care.

Judy Johnson, 56, of Columbia, is the primary caregiver for her 77-year-old mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s more than a year ago. Johnson’s stepmother and father-in-law also have Alzheimer’s.

“I go to the Alzheimer’s Association support group every week,” Johnson said. “That’s a real blessing. I just feel like I am keeping my head above water right now.”

The spread of the Alzheimer’s during the next 50 years is a result of the declining death rate among people over 65. People age 85 or older are more likely to have the disease.

If the projected figures are correct, Sheldon Goldberg, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, warns that younger Americans might face major consequences as they grow older.

“If left unchecked, it is no exaggeration to say that Alzheimer’s Disease will destroy the health care system and bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid,” Goldberg said in a press release.

Johnson tells aging Columbians to prepare now.

“Get your paperwork in order and other legal things settled,” she said. “You have to have someone to make decisions for you if you are not able to.”

For more information on Alzheimer’s disease or Mid-Missouri chapter programs, call (573) 443-8665 or 1-800-693-8665.

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