Among the top 10 causes of death in the US, Alzheimer’s disease ranks the 6th. According to the realistic prognoses, the situation is not going to get any better over time. There are three major statements about Alzheimer’s disease that people should be aware of. Firstly, it is very common among the Americans. Secondly, Alzheimer’s is progressive and lethal. Thirdly, it affects not only patients diagnosed with it, but also their close relatives and the country in general. Let us view the three statements more closely below.
According to the recent reports, approximately 5.3 million of Americans have Alzheimer’s in 2015. 96% of this number is people aged 65 or older, and the rest 4% have an early onset of the illness. It is known that over ⅔ of the patients are women. It is also estimated that, by 2050, the number of people affected with Alzheimer’s may rise to 13.8 million, which is 2.6 times over a 35-year time period.
What makes these statistics so pessimistic is that Alzheimer’s is a progressive mental disease which results in dementia. Memory loss, which is often associated with aging, is only one of the symptoms. In a broader sense, the body of a person with Alzheimer’s disease forgets how to function, and even such automatic processes as swallowing are affected. Over 30% of elderly people die with dementia that is caused by Alzheimer’s or another progressive mental disease; in 60-70% of such cases, Alzheimer’s is the cause. While the disease is debilitating on its own, it is usually accompanied by other serious health conditions, such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
While certain changes in the body that are caused by Alzheimer’s disease cannot go unnoticed, only less than half of people with Alzheimer’s are aware of their diagnosis. The main reason is that physicians and caregivers decide not to disclose the diagnosis to their elderly relatives, as many believe that it might frustrate and frighten them. In general, it is important to make a diagnosis like this the earliest, as this might even improve their quality of life.
It is crucial to provide proper care to patients with Alzheimer’s. Usually, relatives choose to stay with their elderly family members and care for them. This results in billions of hours of voluntary unpaid care (17.9 billion hours in 2014), which is not only an extreme financial burden on caregivers, but also an economic one on the national level. It has been calculated that families with at least one member diagnosed with Alzheimer’s spend three times as much on medical care as families where nobody has the disease. Apart from unpaid care and expenses on medical services and products, such people suffer from emotional stress and in some cases develop depression. In the broader context, this year’s economic loss due to Alzheimer’s and other dementias in the US has reached $226 billion (these are mainly Medicare costs, and individual expenses are not included). The sum is expected to grow four times by 2050.
Alzheimer’s is not just a lethal condition of the elderly people, but it is also a cause of significant psychological, social, and economic distress in people who deal with the disease in their family members. With millions of Americans slowly fading away with progressing dementia, hundreds of billions of dollars spent on care for Alzheimer’s patients, and billions of unpaid hours of looking after the ill family members, the disease hurts the country psychologically, socially, and economically. This calls for early diagnosis social programs and medical research aimed at finding a cure.
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