Alzheimer disease (AD) has a profound impact on society. The importance of funding and research to find a cure, or a way to slow its progression can not be overstated. Affected individuals, families and friends all experience the wrath of what this disease can do to a person. Its impact is manifold, not only physically and emotionally; but if we are to consider it's cost in economic terms, it can be overwhelming.
While studies are underway, our knowledge of its etiology, treatment, and impact is still obscure. While it is known that the cognitive decline seen in AD is distinct from the normal aging process, all too often it is dismissed as simply being due to the aging process. It has only been within the last decade or two that dementia has emerged from obscurity. Because dementia is largely a disease of the aged, the demographic changes have resulted in increasing numbers of people at risk of developing the disease. People are living longer, and with it comes a price.
Currently, approximately 35 million people are living with dementia world-wide. That’s more than the total population of Canada. Even more worrisome is that the world-wide prevalence of dementia is expected to double every 20 years to 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050. The global economic impact of dementia is US$315 billion annually. According to a report from the Alzheimer Society, AD is the second most feared disease for Canadians as they age.
Currently, over 500,000 Canadians have dementia and approximately 70,000 are under age 65. 1 in 11 Canadians over the age of 65 has dementia, and women represent 72% of all cases of Alzheimer's disease, and 62% of overall dementia cases.
In 2008, there were 103,700 new cases of dementia, or one new case every five minutes. By 2038, the incidence will rise to one new case every two minutes or 257,800 new cases. Within a generation, the numbers of Canadians with dementia will more than double, reaching 1.1 million people.
Two years ago, the cost of dementia in Canada was estimated at $15 billion a year. This accounts for direct health costs, but doesn’t include the indirect costs associated with the provision of unpaid care. This number will reach $153 billion a year by 2038 if something isn’t done. Over the next 30 years, the collective economic impact is expected to total more than $872 billion.
Caregiving is a critical issue for people living with dementia. One in five Canadians age 45 and over is providing some form of care to older people with health problems . A quarter of all family caregivers are seniors themselves, and a third of them – over 200,000 people – are over the age of 75. The physical and psychological toll on family caregivers is significant: 40 to 75 per cent of caregivers have psychological illnesses as a result of their caregiving, and 15 to 32 per cent have depression.
In 2011, the first of the baby boomer generation will turn 65. As our population ages, there will be a dramatic number of people affected by dementia. This is more than just an important health concern. It has the potential to overwhelm families, society at large, as well as our healthcare system. Changes in funding and research is fundamental if we are to be proactive and address this impending inevitability now.
Eldercare: What We Know Today. Statistics Canada, October 2008. World Alzheimer Report. Alzheimer's disease International, September 2009.