Alzheimer’s Disease Prevalence Surging

Study Reflects Racial Disparity and Dementia

Neurodegenerative disease has been surging around the world for the past 30 years. It’s the fastest-growing cause of death in the world and it will soon be the leading cause of death.

Alzheimer’s disease alone is taking the lives of 50-100 million people around the world now. The epidemic is more severe in some countries than others. As millions die, even more will be diagnosed. Millions more are suffering in silence with a misdiagnosis or no diagnosis. No one really knows the scope of the epidemic.

The epidemic is worse in some regions of the world than others. Finland and Iceland were at the top of the list just a few years ago. Now, countries in the middle East and Persian Gulf states have soared to the top of the list.

In the United States, for example, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease increased 71 percent from 2000 to 2013. Over the same time, deaths from heart disease decreased 14 percent. At $236 billion a year, Alzheimer’s disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States.

Alzheimer's disease diagnosis

The U.S. burden of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) will double by 2060, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The truth is that it is spreading exponentially.

A variety of factors can trigger neurodegenerative disease, including genetics, head trauma and neurotoxins. Misinformation and mismanagement are fanning the flames.

Despite millions of deaths, experts suggest that the prevalence of the disease will quadruple by 2050, if not sooner. Unfortunately, there is a growing stack of evidence that Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other brain diseases are transmissible. They also are being misdiagnosed and undiagnosed at an alarming rate. Deadly, self-replicating proteins appear to be one of the common threads.

The study, published online in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, is the first to forecast Alzheimer’s disease by race and ethnicity. CDC researchers predict that Hispanic Americans will have the largest projected increase due to population growth. Because of the relative size of the population, non-Hispanic whites will still have the largest total number of Alzheimer’s disease cases.

The burden of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in 2014 was 5 million people, which is 1.6 percent of the U.S. population in 2014—319 million people. This burden is projected to grow to 13.9 million, nearly 3.3 percent of the population in 2060–417 million people.

“This study shows that as the U.S. population increases, the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias will rise, especially among minority populations,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D. “Early diagnosis is key to helping people and their families cope with loss of memory, navigate the healthcare system, and plan for their care in the future.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth most common cause of death for Americans ages 65 years and older. It is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and, eventually, a person’s ability to perform even the simplest tasks, such as bathing, feeding, and dressing.

CDC researchers estimated the number of people with Alzheimer’s by age, sex, race and ethnicity in 2014 and 2060 based on population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau and percentages of Medicare Fee-for-Service beneficiaries ages 65 years and older with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Among people ages 65 and older, African Americans have the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (13.8 percent), followed by Hispanics (12.2 percent), and non-Hispanic whites (10.3 percent), American Indian and Alaska Natives (9.1 percent), and Asian and Pacific Islanders (8.4 percent).

By 2060, the researchers estimate there will be 3.2 million Hispanics and 2.2 million African Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The increases are a result of fewer people dying from other chronic diseases and surviving into older adulthood when the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias increases.

The report also addresses the need to provide support to caregivers of persons living with Alzheimer’s and related dementias because an early diagnosis can help caregivers plan for the life-changing experience of caring for a friend or family member with these conditions, which can also impact the caregiver’s health and well-being.

“It is important for people who think their daily lives are impacted by memory loss to discuss these concerns with a health care provider. An early assessment and diagnosis is key to planning for their health care needs, including long-term services and supports, as the disease progresses,” said Kevin Matthews, Ph.D., health geographer and lead author of the study with the CDC’s Division of Population Health within the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Learn more about the Alzheimer’s disease epidemic and the prevalence of the disease in your part of the world.

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