A Look Into the Dramatic Rise in Alzheimer's Cases

04/28/2014 12:53 pm ET | Updated Jun 28, 2014
  • Eric J. Hall President & CEO of HealthCare Chaplaincy Network, Chairman of Alzheimer’s Global Initiative

By now, most of America has heard of Alzheimer's disease. They know it is associated with memory loss, and they know that it typically targets the elderly. However, despite the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease in our society, many people still don't truly understand this devastating condition or the real impact it is having on our society today. On a more personal level, this disease is already striking one out of 10 people age 65 and older in the United States and 50 percent of those over the age of 85, and the numbers are only growing. With these shocking numbers being reported, it is about time that we all take a look at this disease that will eventually impact most people or someone they love.

Alzheimer's disease has long been known as a prevalent, degenerative brain disorder. There are currently no cures and no treatments that can slow down its progression in any significant way. Not only is the disease already quite prevalent in our world today, but the numbers are rising at an astounding rate. South Carolina has already seen a dramatic 17.9 percent increase in Alzheimer's cases since 2000. Currently there are more than 79,000 people in South Carolina living with the disease, and based on estimated progress that number could shoot up to 120,000 by the year 2025. This is just in one state alone.

Both in South Carolina and around the country, reports are revealing that nearly two-thirds of those diagnosed with the disease are women. Women who are 65 and older have a one in six chance of developing Alzheimer's disease in their life. Right now the cost for caring for individuals with Alzheimer's in the U.S. is expected to hit $214 billion. Cost to Medicare and Medicaid is set at just $150 million. As the numbers continue to grow, by the year 2050, there could be more than 16 million people with Alzheimer's disease, with a cost at more than $1.2 trillion, which means a 400 percent increase in out-of-pocket spending for those with the disease and the caretakers that dedicate their lives to these individuals, according to this report.

These are people who are struggling not only to remember names and faces but basic concepts and how to function on their own. They rely on the help of friends, family and professional caretakers who must assist these individuals with all types of basic daily functions. There have been some efforts to help eradicate this disease by the U.S. government. A new bill added $122 million to Alzheimer's funding, $100 million of that will be going into the National Institute of Health's current $484 million budget for Alzheimer's research. However, this still pales in comparison to the funding given to other disease. In 2013, the NIH received $5.6 billion for cancer research, $3.1 billion for research on HIV and AIDS, cardiovascular research received $2.05 billion and diabetes received $1.06 billion. This is all compared to the $524 million that is dedicated to Alzheimer's research, the most prevalent killer of all of these conditions.

The hard truth of the matter is that Alzheimer's disease is growing in prevalence in our world today, and the amount of funding given to this disease, in comparison to the number of lives it takes, simply does not add up. With this in mind, we all need to take a moment to truly understand what this rise in Alzheimer's cases mean. Most importantly, we need to determine what we can do as a nation to help get the funding necessary to finally find a cure and save the millions who are impacted by this disease every year.