According to Reuters, a pair of new studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Alzheimer’s Association find that a combination of factors — including an aging population, more targeted early diagnosis efforts, and the failure to discover a viable cure — have contributed to a sharp rise in recorded American deaths from Alzheimer’s disease.
While death rates for other common ailments such as cancer and heart disease have fallen significantly, Alzheimer’s has steadily killed an increasing number of Americans, with the risk of death rising by 39 percent between 2000 and 2010 and actual mortality rates rising by a staggering 68 percent over the same time period:
“Compared with other selected causes, Alzheimer’s disease has been on the rise since the last decade,” the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics said, adding that “mortality from Alzheimer’s disease has steadily increased during the last 30 years.”
“The Alzheimer’s epidemic is clearly an urgent issue that needs to be addressed,” the Alzheimer’s Association, which advocates for patients and helps fund research, said in a statement accompanying its annual report. [...]
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last year released a national action plan to address Alzheimer’s following a 2011 law signed by President Barack Obama requiring federal agencies to coordinate their research and accelerate efforts to target the disease. The president also highlighted the issue in his annual address to lawmakers in January.
Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration last month issued guidelines to make it easier to test potential treatments in patients earlier when there may be a greater chance for them to work.
One factor that is likely contributing to the ballooning mortality rate is increased recognition of Alzheimer’s as a cause of death, rather than more vague reasons such as “natural causes” or “old age.” But researchers and lawmakers are also stressing that early intervention and treatment may be the only way to effectively grapple with the ailment, since efforts to develop a working cure have mostly fallen short.
The full scope of the crisis becomes even clearer considering the health care costs associated with the chronic condition. According to the new reports, treating Americans with Alzheimer’s and other degenerative illnesses cost $200 billion in 2012, “including $140 billion in costs to the government’s Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs.” These costs are estimated to balloon to a sky-high $1.1 trillion per year as an increasing number of Baby Boomers and future elderly Americans fall victim to the disease.
The Obama Administration is well-aware of this ongoing public health crisis, encouraging more robust research into Alzheimer’s prevention and early treatment. In fact, the president expounded on this during his most recent State of the Union address, announcing a national goal of “mapping the human brain” in the same manner as scientists have mapped the human genome. Unfortunately, congressional budget disputes could leave lofty initiatives like that in limbo, as the sequester cuts will cut back on national research and innovation spending — which is already half of what it was in 1962.