Dementia’s costs prove staggering for patients, families

04/02/2013 5:16 AM

08/08/2014 10:16 AM

Gerry O’Shaughnessy remembers when the nurses called her at 2 a.m. on Aug. 15. They told her the angels had come to take her mom home.

And while O’Shaughnessy was devastated, she almost felt a sense of relief for her mother that she no longer had to live with dementia.

One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia, according to a report released recently by the Alzheimer’s Association, which advocates for more research.

There already are 5.2 million Americans 65 or older who have the degenerative brain disease, and that number is expected to soar to 13.8 million by 2050, the report says.

“It’s just a terrible disease, because they’ll never get better and you can’t talk to them — there’s nothing you can do,” said O’Shaughnessy, the manager of volunteer services at Riverside Methodist Hospital.

Her mother, Pauline Maloney, died at 86.

“You are looking at them and that’s your mother or your father, but they really aren’t,” she said.

While deaths from heart disease, HIV/AIDS and stroke have declined, deaths nationwide from Alzheimer’s jumped 68 percent from 2000 to 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

“The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is exploding exponentially,” said Kenneth Strong, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s central Ohio chapter. “It’s getting worse, and we as a country are being taxed to maximum capacity.”

Douglas Scharre, director of Ohio State University’s Division of Cognitive Neurology, said one of the biggest factors in the increase is that the baby-boom generation is reaching the age most at risk: 65 or older. Modern medicine is allowing people to live longer, and thus they are more at risk.

The report emphasizes the need for more research to help ease both the financial and emotional burdens, and Strong and Scharre echo that.

In 2012, the cost of treatment of those with Alzheimer’s or other dementia was $200 billion, the CDC said. Those costs could reach $1.1 trillion by 2050.

Maloney was in assisted-living centers for four years and at the Whetstone Gardens and Care Center for her last year. O’Shaughnessy said “every penny” her mother had went toward her care.

Scharre pointed to the multiple costs — “patient costs, caregiver costs, time-off-work costs, it just goes on and on,” he said. “If we put a little extra money into research now, there is the potential to save billions and billions in the future for health care.”

Though no cure has been found for Alzheimer’s or dementia, medications can slow the disease’s progression. The earlier treatment is started, the more effective it will be.

Strong said, “We are working to save cherished memories, of our spouse, children, friends, wedding, baptism, everything. Those things that make us uniquely human are being devastated by this disease.”

Information from Reuters was included in this story.

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