The American population is aging and with it comes a growing number of people with Alzheimer’s disease. A new study finds that about 15 million Americans will have either Alzheimer’s dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) by 2060 — more than double the current 6.08 million patients with these conditions.
To determine this figure, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Fielding School of Public Health examined the largest studies available on rates of Alzheimer’s disease progression and entered that information into a computer model that takes into account the aging of the U.S population. The model was able to predict the numbers of people in both preclinical and clinical disease states.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, is the first of its kind to estimate the numbers of Americans with preclinical Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment. The findings emphasize the pressing need to develop treatments that could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in people who are high-risk.
“There are about 47 million people in the U.S. today who have some evidence of preclinical Alzheimer’s, which means they have either a build-up of protein fragments called beta-amyloid or neurodegeneration of the brain but don’t yet have symptoms,” said Dr. Ron Brookmeyer, professor of biostatistics at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the study’s lead author.
“Many of them will not progress to Alzheimer’s dementia in their lifetimes. We need to have improved methods to identify which persons will progress to clinical symptoms, and develop interventions for them that could slow the progression of the disease, if not stop it all together.”
The findings show that by 2060 about 5.7 million Americans will have mild cognitive impairment and another 9.3 million will have dementia due to Alzheimer’s. Of the latter group, about four million patients will require an intensive level of care similar to that provided by nursing homes.
Mild cognitive impairment is an intermediate clinical stage that does not yet meet the requirements for a dementia diagnosis. Brookmeyer estimates that today about 2.4 million Americans are living with MCI due to Alzheimer’s disease.
“Estimates by disease state and severity are important because the resources needed to care for patients vary so much over the course of the illness,” said Brookmeyer.
There is still some uncertainty in the findings. For example, the patients in the original studies may not represent all demographics. In addition, there are other types of dementia, such as vascular dementia, that were not examined but could have an impact on these numbers.