Published in Pawtucket Times, May 11, 2014
According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Alzheimer’s disease Facts and Figures report released last Month, a woman’s estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s at age 65 is 1 in 6, compared with nearly 1 in 11 for a man. As real a concern as breast cancer is to women’s health, women age 60 and over are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer, says the this years’ report.
The Facts and Figures report, an official report of the Alzheimer’s Association, the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research, is a comprehensive compilation of national statistics and information on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The 75 page report conveys the impact of Alzheimer’s on individuals, families, government and the nation’s health care system. Since its 2007 inaugural release, the detailed report has become the most cited source covering the broad spectrum of Alzheimer’s issues.
“Through our role in the development of The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s in 2010, in conjunction with Maria Shriver, we know that women are the epicenter of Alzheimer’s disease, representing majority of both people with the disease and Alzheimer’s caregivers. The recently released Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures examines the impact of this unbalanced burden,” said Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. “Well-deserved investments in breast cancer and other leading causes of death such as heart disease, stroke and HIV/AIDS have resulted in substantial decreases in death. Geiger calls for comparable investments in research to reach the same levels of successfully preventing and treating Alzheimer’s as the other leading causes of death.
Adding to women’s Alzheimer’s burden, there are 2.5 times as many women as men providing intensive “on- duty” care 24 hours for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease, says the report, also noting that among caregivers who feel isolated, women are much more likely than men to link isolation with feeling depressed (17 percent of women verse. 2 percent of men).
Also noted in the 2014 Alzheimer’s’ Facts and Figures report released on March 19, 2014, the strain of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is also felt in the nation’s workplace, too. Among caregivers who have been employed while they were also care giving, 20 percent of women verse. 3 percent of men went from working full-time to working part-time while acting as a caregiver. The report also noted that 18 percent of women versus. 11 percent of men took a leave of absence while 11 percent of women verses 5 percent of men gave up work entirely. Finally, 10 percent of women verse 5 percent of men lost job benefits.
Far Reaching Fiscal Human Impact of Alzheimer’s
Meanwhile the Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report noted that there are more than 5 million Americans living with this devastating disorder, including 3.2 million women and 200,000 people under the age of 65 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease (see my May 9, 2013 Commentary). However, Alzheimer’s has far-reaching effects by impacting entire families. Also, it was reported that there are currently 15.5 million caregivers providing 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care throughout the nation, often severely impacting their own health. The physical and emotional impact of dementia care giving resulted in an estimated $9.3 billion in increased healthcare costs for Alzheimer’s caregivers in 2013.
The total national cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is projected to reach $214 billion this year, says the 2014 Facts and Figures report, not including unpaid care giving by family and friends valued at more than $220 billion. In 2014, the cost to Medicare and Medicaid of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias will reach a combined $150 billion with Medicare spending nearly $1 in every $5 on people with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
The Facts and Figures report predicts the cost numbers to soar as the baby boomers continue to enter the age of greatest risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Unless something is done to change the course of the devastating disorder, there could be as many as 16 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s in 2050, at a cost of $1.2 trillion (in current dollars) to the nation. This dramatic rise includes a 500 percent increase in combined Medicare and Medicaid spending and a 400 percent increase in out-of-pocket spending.
The country’s first-ever National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s disease has a goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s disease by 2025. Ensuring strong implementation of the National Alzheimer’s Plan, including adequately funding Alzheimer’s research, is the best way to avoid these staggering human and financial tolls.
Lack of Understanding of the Alzheimer’s’ Disease
“Despite being the nation’s biggest health threat, Alzheimer’s disease is still largely misunderstood. Everyone with a brain — male or female, family history or not — is at risk for Alzheimer’s,” said Geiger. “Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and America is aging. As a nation, we must band together to protect our greatest asset, our brains.”
In 2010, the Alzheimer’s Association in partnership with Maria Shriver and The Shriver Report conducted a groundbreaking poll with the goal of exploring the compelling connection between Alzheimer’s disease and women. Data from that poll were published in The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s, which also included essays and reflections that gave personal perspectives to the poll’s numbers. For the first time, that report revealed not only the striking impact of the disease on individual lives, but also its especially strong effects on women — women living with the disease, as well as women who are caregivers, relatives, friends and loved ones of those directly affected.
Realizing the impact Alzheimer’s has on women — and the impact women can have when they work together — the Alzheimer’s Association is launching a national initiative this spring highlighting the power of women in the fight against this disease. To join the movement, visit http://www.alz.org/mybrain.
Maureen Maigret, policy consultant for the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island and Coordinator of the Rhode Island Older Woman’s Policy Group, concurs with the findings of the Alzheimer’s disease Facts and Figures report. She calls for the education of elected officials on the facts about Alzheimer’s disease and its greater prevalence among women. “It is clearly a tragedy for the women effected with the disease, and can be devastating for their caregivers, mostly daughters, trying to keep them at home,” she says.
Maigret says that Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias at the state level have tremendous implications for this state’s budget. “Data show that in Rhode Island, about three-quarters of persons in nursing homes paid for by Medicaid are older women. An overwhelming number of them have some cognitive decline or dementia, she notes.
“We must do more to ensure that quality long-term care is available for persons with dementia and that robust caregiver support services are in place for the many families dealing with parents, spouses and other loved ones suffering from this disease,” says Maigret, stressing that government funding on research must also be greatly increased in the hopes of finding a cure or ways to prevent its onset.
Director Catherine Taylor, of the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs, believes that the Alzheimer’s’ Association’s released 2014 Facts and Figures report, about a woman’s lifetime risk of developing the devastating cognitive disorder verses breast cancer “really help us understand, in stark terms, what a public health crisis Alzheimer’s disease is, especially for women.”
Taylor notes that the Ocean State is in the implementation phase of its State Plan on Alzheimer’s disease and Related Dementias (see my November 13, 2013 commentary), where state officials are working to improve information, care and supports for every family that confronts Alzheimer’s disease. “The work will continue until there’s a cure,” she says.
“It’s important to note that new research findings also indicates that up to half of the cases of Alzheimer’s disease may be linked to risk factors “within our control,” states Taylor, adding that reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease may be a simple as eating a healthy diet, staying active, learning new skills, and maintaining maintain strong connections with family, friends and community.
For those concerned about their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, join Prevent AD, Rhode Island’s Alzheimer’s disease Prevention Registry. Prevent AD volunteers will learn about prevention studies for which they may be qualified to participate in, as well as the latest news on brain health. For more information, call (401) 444-0789.
The full text of the Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Facts and Figures can be viewed at http://www.alz.org/downloads/facts_figures_2014.pdf. The full report also appeared in the March 2014 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia: the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association (Volume 10, Issue 2).
Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.