WASHINGTON -- A staggering 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia, says a new report that highlights the impact the mind-destroying disease is having on the rapidly aging population.

Dying with Alzheimer's is not the same as dying from it. But even when dementia isn't the direct cause of death, it can be the final blow – speeding someone's decline by interfering with their care for heart disease, cancer or other serious illnesses. That's the assessment of the report released Tuesday by the Alzheimer's Association, which advocates for more research and support for families afflicted by it.

"Exacerbated aging," is how Dr. Maria Carrillo, an association vice president, terms the Alzheimer's effect. "It changes any health care situation for a family."

In fact, only 30 percent of 70-year-olds who don't have Alzheimer's are expected to die before their 80th birthday. But if they do have dementia, 61 percent are expected to die, the report found.

Already, 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia. Those numbers will jump to 13.8 million by 2050, Tuesday's report predicts. That's slightly lower than some previous estimates.

Count just the deaths directly attributed to dementia, and they're growing fast. Nearly 85,000 people died from Alzheimer's in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in a separate report Tuesday. Those are people who had Alzheimer's listed as an underlying cause on a death certificate, perhaps because the dementia led to respiratory failure. Those numbers make Alzheimer's the sixth leading cause of death.

That death rate rose 39 percent in the past decade, even as the CDC found that deaths declined among some of the nation's other top killers – heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. The reason: Alzheimer's is the only one of those leading killers to have no good treatment. Today's medications only temporarily ease some dementia symptoms.

But what's on a death certificate is only part of the story.

Consider: Severe dementia can make it difficult for people to move around or swallow properly. That increases the risk of pneumonia, one of the most commonly identified causes of death among Alzheimer's patients.

Likewise, dementia patients can forget their medications for diabetes, high blood pressure or other illnesses. They may not be able to explain they are feeling symptoms of other ailments such as infections. They're far more likely to be hospitalized than other older adults. That in turn increases their risk of death within the following year.

"You should be getting a sense of the so-called blurred distinction between deaths among people with Alzheimer's and deaths caused by Alzheimer's. It's not so clear where to draw the line," said Jennifer Weuve of Chicago's Rush University, who helped study that very question.

The Chicago Health and Aging Project tracked the health of more than 10,000 older adults over time. Weuve's team used the data to estimate how many people nationally will die with Alzheimer's this year – about 450,000, according to Tuesday's report.

That's compatible with the 1 in 3 figure the Alzheimer's Association calculates for all dementias. That number is based on a separate analysis of Medicare data that includes both Alzheimer's cases and deaths among seniors with other forms of dementia.

Last year, the Obama administration set a goal of finding effective Alzheimer's treatments by 2025, and increased research funding to help. It's not clear how the government's automatic budget cuts, which began earlier this month, will affect those plans.

But Tuesday's report calculated that health and long-term care services will total $203 billion this year, much of that paid by Medicare and Medicaid and not counting unpaid care from family and friends. That tab is expected to reach $1.2 trillion by 2050, barring a research breakthrough, the report concluded.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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  • Let The Person Speak

    When an ill person brings up subjects that make you feel uncomfortable, it's natural to want to squelch the discussion or rapidly change the subject. However, it's very important to listen unselfishly and avoid responding with, for example: "Let's not get into that right now. Can't we discuss something more pleasant?" or "Do you really think it's helpful to dwell on this topic?"

  • Know When To Say "I Don't Know"

    Whether the patient asks a spiritual or theological question that catches you off guard or she wants to know about the side effects of a medication, it helps to learn how to be noncommittal without seeming evasive. You don't want her to think that you don't care or that you're hiding something, and you definitely don't want to offer misinformation that might do more harm than good.

  • Don't Hesitate To Call In Spiritual Help

    Even for people who weren't very spiritual or religious throughout most of their lives, it's natural to experience spiritual anxiety during a serious illness. And it's also natural for this anxiety to lead to questions that caregivers might find difficult or even overwhelming. If your loved one asks, for instance, 'What's next? Will prayer help? Why did God let this happen to me?' it's best to call in a qualified cleric.

  • Let The Tears Flow (The Patient's And Yours, Too)

    Just as most of us are not comfortable with chronic illness, we are also not comfortable with crying. When tears appear, we tend to whip out a tissue and murmur something along the lines of, "It's okay. Don't cry." From now on, continue to pass the tissue when your ill loved one starts to tear up, but don't pressure him to stop sobbing. Tears are a natural emotional release for emotions ranging from anger to sadness to fear, and can be very therapeutic.

  • Resist The Urge To Spout Platitudes

    When your loved one is uncomfortable, upset, or worried, you might be tempted to utter platitudes like, "Everything will be okay," "I know how you feel," "God has given you a long life," or "It's God's will." While we hope that these phrases will be a quick fix to problems we'd rather not deal with, the truth is that they're trite and meaningless. What's more, sugarcoating reality doesn't fool most people, and it certainly doesn't spark positive change.

  • Respond Constructively To Anger

    Anger is a natural human emotion, and it's important to recognize that chronically ill people have a lot to potentially feel upset about. Understandably, many patients are angry that they are so sick. Plus, their pain and energy levels might make them less patient or less able to handle stressful situations. Therefore, it's not unusual for caregivers to be on the receiving end when their loved one's fuse blows for any reason.

  • Seek To Connect Heart To Heart

    Understanding how and why an illness is getting worse and more painful is intellectual. But experiencing it is a very visceral and emotional thing. The patient needs for you to connect with him on a heart-to-heart, gut-to-gut level, not just a mental one.