March 15, 2011 -- The number of Alzheimer's disease caregivers in the U.S. is far larger than previously believed, according to a new report issued by the Alzheimer's Association.
"The number of Americans living in the U.S. as caregivers to someone with Alzheimer's or a different type of dementia is 15 million," says Maria Carrillo, PhD, of the Alzheimer's Association.
The caregiver numbers are up 37% from the 2010 figure, Carrillo says, largely because the association, which bases its estimates on statistics from the government, hadn't had access to an updated number to work with since 2000.
The new report, 2011 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, was released today.
Among other facts in the new report, an estimated 5.4 million Americans are now living with Alzheimer's disease. That number could reach 16 million by 2050, the Alzheimer’s Association warns, without progress in effective treatments to modify the brain disorder, which is marked by memory problems, impaired judgment, confusion, behavior changes and difficulty in speaking, swallowing, and walking.
The annual costs for health care, long-term care, and hospice care for Alzheimer's is now $183 billion, according to the report, up $11 billion from the 2010 figure.
The new report details what those in the Alzheimer's care community have known, says Elizabeth A. Crocco, MD, chief of geriatric psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who reviewed the information for WebMD but was not involved in developing the report.
"We've been preaching about this for a long time, that the numbers [with Alzheimer's] are going to go up and the caregiver numbers have been under-reported," she tells WebMD.
The number of caregivers is difficult for some to fathom, Carrillo says. To put the 15 million caregivers figure in perspective: if they all were in one state, it would be the fifth largest state.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association, accounting for about 60 to 80% of cases. It's the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
The caregivers provide 17 billion hours of unpaid care per year, Carrillo says, valued at more than $200 billion.
Those with Alzheimer's survive, on average, for four to eight years after the diagnosis, she says, but some live as long as 20 years, further straining the finances and lives of their loved ones.
According to the report, 61% of caregivers polled report the stress as ''high" or ''very high," and 33% reported depression related to caregiving. While many with Alzheimer's are cared for in dedicated Alzheimer's units, Carrillo said many are cared for at home by unpaid loved ones.
Over time, she says, the disease takes its toll and caregiving becomes all-consuming.