Megan Brooks

July 20, 2015

WASHINGTON ― More than 28 million baby boomers will have Alzheimer's disease (AD) by 2050, and they will account for nearly 25% of Medicare spending by 2040, according to a new analysis.

"The study is important because it is based on an updated model that charts the trajectory and economic impact of Alzheimer's, based on the rate of new diagnoses, the number of people who will be living with the disease, and the cost of medical and long-term care between now and 2050," Christine Bredfeldt, PhD, from the Lewin Group, Falls Church, Virginia, told Medscape Medical News. "It shows that the number of baby boomers with AD and the cost to care for them will skyrocket between now and 2050," she noted.

The study was conducted by the Lewin Group for the Alzheimer's Association and was presented here at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) 2015.

More Severe Disease

The prevalence of AD in the baby boom generation will rise from 1.2% in 2020, when most baby boomers will be in their 60s and 70s, to "an astonishing" 50.1% in 2050, when baby boomers will be in their mid-80s and older, according to a conference statement. By 2040, more than twice as many baby boomers will have AD (10.3 million) than the equivalent age group has in 2015 (4.7 million).

"The risk of Alzheimer's increases with age, and as baby boomers get older ― because of the size of the generation ― the number of people developing the disease will rise to levels far beyond anything we've seen. The size of this generation is the major factor here," Dr Bredfeldt told Medscape Medical News.

And as baby boomers with AD age, there will be a shift toward more severe disease, she noted.

"AD progresses to more severe forms of the disease over time. As the baby boomers get older, increasing numbers of them will be living with AD. The longer they live with AD, the more severe the disease will get. In 2040, the baby boomers will be between 76 and 94, and many of them will have lived with AD for several years," said Dr Bredfeldt.

The researchers project that in 2020, the cost of caring for baby boomers with AD in the community will be 2.1% of total Medicare spending ($11.86 billion in 2014 dollars) and will increase to 24.2% of total Medicare spending by 2040 ($328.15 billion in 2014 dollars).

In an interview with Medscape Medical News, Maria Carrillo, PhD, chief science officer for the Alzheimer's Association, said, "We have been talking about baby boomers for a while now, and we know that there are 80 million of them, and the finding that 28 million of them will be affected by Alzheimer's by mid-century is huge."

"The other number that has us concerned and what speaks to the urgency of the message is that today, baby boomers represent 2% of Medicare costs, and that's just Medicare, and by the time we hit 2040, baby boomers will present almost 25% of Medicare costs. That doesn't include home care, overnight care, nursing home care, all these out-of-pocket expenses," Dr Carrillo said.

Dr Bredfeldt said this new analysis "clearly shows that the increased demand Alzheimer's will place on the health and social services systems over the next 2 decades, coupled with the burden on those with the disease and their families, requires additional investment by the federal government."

The new data reinforce the need for "strong implementation" of the US National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease, which calls on the government and the private sector to intensify efforts to treat or prevent AD and related dementias and to improve care and services, she added.

The authors and Dr Carrillo report no relevant financial relationships.

Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) 2015. Poster P2-324. Presented July 20, 2015.

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