Special to the Register
LOUISVILLE – According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, a woman’s estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s at age 65 is 1 in 6, compared with nearly 1 in 11 for men.
As real a concern as breast cancer is to women’s health, women in their 60s are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer, statistics show.
“Women are at the epicenter of Alzheimer’s disease – they are nearly twice as likely as men to have the disease and two-and-a-half times more likely to be providing 24/7 care for someone with Alzheimer’s,” said Teri Shirk, executive director of the Kentucky and Southern Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “And female caregivers are more likely than men to feel isolated and depressed, which puts tremendous strain on their own health.”
In addition, about half of those with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias have not been diagnosed, which means the 500,000 annual deaths the association says are attributable to the disease are significantly underreported on death certificates.
“If we could eliminate Alzheimer’s tomorrow, we could save half a million lives a year,” Shirk said.
The costs of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s also are felt in the workplace. The workplace costs of caregiving is disproportionately borne by women.
Among caregivers who have been employed while they were also providing care:
• 20 percent of women vs. 3 percent of men went from working fulltime to working parttime while acting as a caregiver
• 18 percent of women vs. 11 percent of men took a leave of absence
• 11 percent of women vs. 5 percent of men gave up work entirely
• 10 percent of women vs. 5 percent of men lost job benefits.
Human, financial toll of Alzheimer’s
There are 5.2 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, including 67,000 Kentuckians. The Kentucky number is projected to jump 28 percent, to 86,000, by 2025.
Alzheimer’s also has far-reaching effects that can plague entire families. In 2013, 267,000 friends and family members provided 304 million hours of unpaid care valued at nearly $3.8 billion in the state. And Kentucky caregivers’ own health care costs are $155 million higher due to the stress of caregiving.
Alzheimer’s continues to be the most expensive condition in the nation. The total national cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is projected to reach $214 billion this year (up from $203 billion in 2013), including $150 billion for Medicare and Medicaid, $36 billion in out of pocket costs, and $28 billion from insurance and other sources.
These numbers are set to soar as the baby boomers continue to enter the age of greatest risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Unless something is done to change the course of the disease, there could be as many as 16 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s in 2050, at a cost of $1.2 trillion (in current dollars) to the nation.
This dramatic rise includes a 500 percent increase in combined Medicare and Medicaid spending and a 400 percent increase in out-of-pocket spending. The country’s first-ever National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease has a goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.
Ensuring strong implementation of the National Alzheimer’s Plan, including adequately funding Alzheimer’s research, is the best way to avoid these staggering human and financial tolls, Shirk said, adding that individuals who want to learn how they can contribute to raising funds through one of the 12 annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s events in Kentucky and Southern Indiana can visit www.alz.org/kyin.
Mistaken belief about Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States – the fifth leading cause for women – yet it is still widely misunderstood and underreported. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of both men and women agree with the mistaken belief that Alzheimer’s must run in their family for them to be at risk.
“Everyone with a brain – male or female, family history of the disease or not – is at risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” Shirk said. “Moreover, African Americans are about two times more likely, and Hispanics one-and-a-half times more likely, than whites to have Alzheimer’s or another dementia.”
Realizing the impact Alzheimer’s has on women – and the impact women can have when they work together – the Alzheimer’s Association will launch a national initiative this spring highlighting the power of women in the fight against this disease.
The full text of the Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report can be viewed at www.alz.org.