The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Health & Fitness

April 13, 2013

Study puts a hefty price tag on dementia

Toll also can have costs that aren’t measured with dollar signs

A new study shows caring for dementia patients is now costlier than heart disease and cancer, and those costs will double by the time baby boomers reach their 70s.

More than 5 million Americans are suffering from some kind of dementia, which is the loss of brain function that most notably manifests itself with decreased memory capacity. It also affects language, judgment and behavior.

The majority of those dealing with dementia are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the study, commissioned by the Rand Corporation, dementia care in the U.S. costs between $157 billion and $215 billion annually.

The study estimates that about 15 percent of Americans aged 71 or older suffered from dementia in 2010. The total economic cost of dementia in 2010 was estimated to be $109 billion for care delivered directly to patients, and $159 billion to $215 billion when the monetary value of so-called “informal care” is included.

The per-person cost of dementia, the study found, was $56,290 or $41,689 annually. Medicare paid about $11 billion of dementia-related costs.

Costs for heart disease and cancer are comparable in terms of care purchased. In fact, both see higher costs than dementia. But when the informal care costs are added, the study showed, dementia care becomes more costly.

Winnie Pao, a neurologist with Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, says costs associated with treatment of dementia can come from both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Pao said dementia patients are prone to falls, delirium, sleep-wake dysregulation and behavior issues while in unfamiliar environments.

“They require more home care or, if they are in a long-term care environment, it can be very costly,” she said. “If they stay at home, then there is the unpaid caregiver cost, that includes loss of work productivity, caregiver’s own stress and health issue.”

Costs in dementia care, Pao said, are multi-leveled.

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