Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

April 4, 2013

Let’s do better

Find ways to cut misery and cost of dementia

While cancer and heart disease have long been at the top of health concerns for Americans, Alzheimer’s has been on the increase every year — and it now ranks as the most expensive malady in the U.S.

A study by the nonprofit RAND Corporation found that the biggest cost of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia is not drugs but other medical treatment.

The study estimates that more than 4 million Americans suffer from dementia. When costs for everything from drugs to nursing homes are totaled, it amounts to $109 billion per year, according to the RAND report.

What worries government officials is the increasing expense dementia is placing on Medicare and health care insurers.

"Most people have understood the enormous toll in terms of human suffering and cost," but the new comparisons to heart disease and cancer may surprise some, said Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the Institute on Aging, told USA Today.

The most worrisome part of the report is the trend it portends, with an aging population and fewer younger people "able to take on the informal caregiving role," Hodes said. "The best hope to change this apparent future is to find a way to intervene" and prevent Alzheimer's or change its course once it develops, he said.

Clearly the nation needs a concentrated effort to better treat dementia and attempt to lessen its impact from both a health and monetary standpoint. Current treatments only temporarily ease symptoms and don't slow the disease.

Finding solutions to these problems will not come easy, or quickly.

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