The costs of caring for people with dementia in the U.S. rival those for heart disease and cancer, topping $200 billion a year, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System and RAND Corporation note that costs are expected to double by 2040 as the population ages.
Researchers estimate that annual healthcare costs tied to dementia, including formal and unpaid care, are between $159 billion to $215 billion, according to the study, which appears in The New England Journal of Medicine.
“Our findings show why dementia is sometimes described as a ‘slow-motion disaster’ for patients and families,” said co-author Kenneth Langa, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of internal medicine at U-M Medical School.
“The majority of the costs associated with dementia — about 80 percent in our study — are due to the long-term daily care and supervision provided by families and nursing homes, often for many years,” he said. “Ignoring these long-term care costs that build up steadily day after day leads to a huge under-counting of the true burden that dementia imposes on our society.”
Dementia is a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. The most common form is Alzheimer’s disease, researchers note.
Researchers found that the direct costs of dementia care, including nursing homes, Medicare, and out-of-pocket expenses, were estimated at $109 billion in 2010. That compares to direct health expenses of $102 billion for heart disease and $77 billion for cancer in the same year.
Adding informal, unpaid care to the equation doubled the estimated total national costs for dementia care up to nearly $215 billion, researchers said. Total cost for each case of dementia in 2010 was estimated between $41,000 to $56,000, they added.
Because rates of dementia increase sharply with age, the researchers estimate that national health expenditures for dementia are likely to double by 2040 as the Baby Boom generation ages.
“We have measured the financial costs of dementia, and found them to be comparable to or larger than other costly diseases,” said Michael Hurd, Ph.D., lead author of the study and director of the RAND Center for the Study of Aging.
“However, we have not measured the emotional costs of dementia, which are bound to be enormous. We need to step up efforts to identify ways to effectively treat and prevent this devastating disease. It inflicts a large and growing cost to patients, families, and public programs, so it requires research and public policy investments that are in line with those currently being made for other major diseases.”
For the study, researchers analyzed health care costs using a nationally representative sample from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a survey of people over the age of 51 funded by the National Institute on Aging with contributions from the Social Security Administration. The HRS is performed at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.