The Alzheimer's Epidemic: A Look at the Numbers


Alzheimer’s disease has quickly become one of the greatest challenges of our time. The numbers quite frankly are shocking: Alzheimer’s disease is currently the 6th leading cause of disease in the United States and it is the only one that cannot not be prevented, slowed, or cured. In fact, while breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, stroke, and HIV have decreased in the number of deaths from 2000 to 2010, Alzheimer’s has increased by 68%. Currently, 1 in 9 people over the age of 65 have the disease and that number will only continue to grow as someone develops Alzheimer’s disease every 68 seconds.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

While this disease is impacting the healthcare system, economy, and millions of families on an unprecedented level, we still have a lot to learn about the disease. One of the most common questions we hear is about the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is really an umbrella term used to describe a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the brain such as:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease (Most Common Form with 50-70% of Cases)
  • Vascular Dementia (20%)
  • Frontal-Temporal Dementia (5%)
  • Parkinson’s Disease (5%)
  • Dementia with Lewy Bodies (15%)

While some memory loss is a normal part of aging, dementia is NOT. It is a disease.

Normal Aging Memory Loss                                           

  • Forgetting part of an experience                                   
  • Often able to remember later on                                     
  • Usually able to follow written/ spoken directions          
  • Usually able to use notes as reminders                       
  • Usually able to care for oneself                                       

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

  • Forgetting whole experiences
  • Rarely able to remember later on
  • Unable to follow written/ spoken directions
  • Usually unable to use notes as reminders
  • Gradually unable to care for oneself


The Cost: Now & Later

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and as many as 16 million will have the disease by 2050. Nearly 1 in every 3 seniors who dies each year has Alzheimer’s or another dementia. This growing crisis threatens to bankrupt America. In 2013, the direct costs of caring for those with Alzheimer’s to the American society will total an estimated $203 billion, including $142 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. The Average per-person Medicare costs for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are three times higher than for those without these conditions. The average per-person Medicaid spending for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is 19 times higher than average per-person Medicaid spending for all other seniors. Unless something is done, Alzheimer’s will cost an estimated $1.2 Trillion (in today’s dollars) in 2050. Costs of Medicare and Medicaid will increase over 500%, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Local Numbers

In Washington State alone the numbers are staggering"

Year           65-74     75-84     85+           Total          % Change from 2000

2000          4,700     43,000   35,000     83,000       N/A            

2010          5,100     48,000   53,000     110,000     33%

2020          8,000     58,000   62,000     130,000     57%

2025          9,700     75,000   69,000     150,000     81%


Number of Washington State Alzheimer’s & Dementia Caregivers, Hours of Unpaid Care, & Cost of Caregiving

Year     # of CG     Unpaid Hours      Value Hours      CG Health Costs
                                (IN MILLIONS)     (MILLIONS)       (MILLIONS)

2010     310,000    353                        $4,211                N/A

2011     319,000    364                        $4,407                $180

2012     323,000    368                        $4,538                $190

The number of deaths due to Alzheimer’s disease in 2010 in Washington State was 3,025. Washington has the 4th highest Alzheimer’s death rate in America and is the 3rd leading cause of death in Washington.


What Should I Be Doing Now to Minimize the Risks Later?

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s understanding the risk factors offers individuals an important action step. According to Dr. Oz, there are 5 major risk factors for developing dementia. Some we cannot change, but some are directly affected by our lifestyle choices:

  • Age: The chances of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s increases as we age. In fact it doubles every year after the age of 65.
  • Genetics: If your family members had a form of dementia, you are at a higher risk for having the genetic mutation.
  • Head Trauma: Particularly if you have lost consciousness, a head injury increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Moral of the story: Wear Your Helmet & Seatbelts!
  • Diabetes: Individuals with diabetes are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
  • Cardiovascular Disease: 80% of people with Alzheimer’s disease also have cardiovascular disease. Developing a heart healthy routine comprised of regular exercise, managing your weight, and keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure low are all important.

From the lost wages of family caregivers to the staggering costs of care, this expensive epidemic is a challenge for millions of families and the society and systems they rely on. The better we understand this disease and its impact, the better equipped we will be to understand and support those in need and affect the future.  




Published on November 4, 2013.