Alzheimer’s Patient Population Projected to Triple by 2050

Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP
Published Online: Friday, March 8, 2013
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Researchers who drew on dementia assessments of more than 10,000 aging patients and census data concluded that in 2050 there will be 13.8 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease.

A study published online on February 6, 2013, in Neurology confirms what many have expected for years: The Alzheimer’s disease patient population is expected to triple by 2050. The authors—like many others—attribute the increase to the aging baby boom generation and conducted the study to validate previous estimates of the disease’s potential impact.

The expected increase “will place a huge burden on society, disabling more people who develop the disease, challenging their caregivers, and straining medical and social safety nets,” study co-author Jennifer Weuve, MPH, ScD, an assistant professor of medicine at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said in a press release.

To complete the study, researchers combed through data from 10,802 African American and Caucasian people older than 65 who lived in Chicago. Every 3 years, from 1993 through 2011, they interviewed each participant and assessed him or her for dementia. They also used a neurological assessment tool that was able to identify people who may not have been diagnosed clinically. (Many people remain undiagnosed until late in the disease process.) Then, they combined their data with US Census Bureau data including death rates, education levels, and current and future population estimates. This allowed the researchers to arrive at a more informed estimate than had been possible in previous studies.

The researchers report that by 2050, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease will reach 13.8 million. (As a reference point, 4.7 million had Alzheimer’s disease in 2010, and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that 5.1 million do today.) In 2050, approximately 7 million Alzheimer’s patients will be 85 or older.

“Our detailed projections use the most up-to-date data, but they are similar to projections made years and decades ago,” said Weuve in the press release. “All of these projections anticipate a future with a dramatic increase in the number of people with Alzheimer’s and should compel us to prepare for it.”

Finding preventive interventions for Alzheimer’s is all the more critical given the projected increase in patients. The study coincides with a draft guidance issued by the FDA (“Guidance for Industry, Alzheimer’s Disease: Developing Drugs for the Treatment of Early Stage Disease”) that encourages researchers and manufacturers to shift their focus to early-stage Alzheimer’s rather than later stages, when patients suffer from severe cognitive impairment. The guidelines fall under HHS’s National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, which includes $156 million in funding that aims to make significant advances in fighting Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

Ms. Wick is a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy and a freelance writer from Virginia.

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