Advances in medicine and healthcare are helping people live longer. However, healthcare systems and governments may not be prepared to deal with the medical, economic, and social challenges of an aging population including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
In marking World Alzheimer’s Day on Sept. 21, Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), an international federation of 73 Alzheimer associations around the world, issued The World Alzheimer Report 2010, which provides a global picture of the economic and social costs of the illness.
Some of the statistics detailed in the report are alarming. The worldwide costs of dementia will exceed 1% of global GDP in 2010, at $604 billion. The number of people with dementia will double by 2030, and more than triple by 2050. The costs of caring for people with dementia are likely to rise even faster than the prevalence, especially in the developing world, as more formal social care systems emerge, and rising incomes lead to higher opportunity costs.
In the United States, the estimated number of new cases of AD is 454,000 for 2010, according to the report 2010 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, from the Alzheimer’s Association. The number of people aged 65 and older with AD is estimated to reach 7.7 million in 2030—a more than 50% increase from the 5.1 million aged 65 or older currently affected.
The ADI calls for governments and international organizations such as the World Health Organization to make AD a top priority. On the research front, ADI called for governments and other major research funding groups to increase research funding to a level “more proportionate to the economic burden of the condition.” Recently published data from the U.K. suggests that a 15-fold increase is required to reach parity with research into heart disease, and a 30-fold increase to achieve parity with cancer research.
In the United States, National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for aging is estimated at $3.17 billion for 2011; neuroscience research is estimated at $5.6 billion. Alzheimer’s research is budgeted for $480 million, ranking it 56th of 218 disease/research areas tracked by NIH. This is, unfortunately, not near the parity to cancer research funding that ADI recommends.
If the projections of ADI and the Alzheimer’s Association are accurate, the current generation is doing itself a great disservice by underfunding research for a vital health issue. Success in the battles against cardiovascular disease, obesity, or cancer will be bittersweet if memory and mental cognition in our “golden years” is stolen away by disease.
Rita Peters, Editorial Director, Drug Discovery & Development
Robert Fee, Editor in Chief, Bioscience Technology
Peter Bennett, Managing Editor, Drug Discovery & Development
To view the Fall 2010 edition of Vital Signs click here.