U.S. May Spend More on Dementia Care Than Cancer
Annual bill now tops $200 billion, largely for long-term care, researchers say
By Amy Norton
WEDNESDAY, April 3 (HealthDay News) -- The cost of caring for Americans with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia may now be as high as $215 billion a year -- more than the cost of caring for heart disease or cancer, a new study finds.
And that number is expected to escalate as the elderly population grows.
In 2010, the United States spent somewhere between $157 billion and $215 billion on dementia care, researchers reported in the April 4 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. That includes direct medical expenses and the costs of caring for people with dementia -- both professional care and the "informal" care that families provide.
Dementia is a progressive deterioration in memory, thinking ability, judgment and other vital brain functions.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, and a recent study estimated that with the aging baby boom generation, the number of Americans with Alzheimer's could triple by 2050, to nearly 14 million.
The new study tried to take a "comprehensive look" at the financial impact -- including the costs to family caregivers, said lead researcher Michael Hurd, a senior principal researcher at the nonprofit research institute RAND.
"It's not a happy situation," Hurd said. "A lot of the costs fall on families, and right now, there's no solution in sight."
The researchers based their estimates on a government study of older Americans, plus Medicare records and other data sources. Of the billions spent on dementia in 2010, only a small portion went to medical treatments, the study found.
Instead, long-term care -- either nursing homes, or home care provided by professionals or family members -- was the big expense, accounting for up to 84 percent of the total.
Per person, the costs ranged from about $41,700 to $56,300, depending on how the researchers calculated the cost of family caregiving. In the first case, they considered only family members' lost wages; in the second, they gave family members' time the same value as formal paid care.
As for who paid, Medicare foot the bill for $11 billion out of the up to $215 billion in total expenses, Hurd's team said.