It is an estimated 6.7 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease today – about every ninth person over the age of 65.
That number is expected to nearly double over the next two decades, reaching nearly 13 million by 2050, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Alzheimer’s Association.
Despite promising advances in treating early-stage patients, the Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report revealed some key challenges, including a lack of communication with physicians and missed opportunities for early-stage diagnosis and intervention.
Population growth fuels Alzheimer’s spike
“The population of people age 65 and older is projected to grow from 58 million in 2021 to 88 million in 2050,” said Nicole Purcell, DO, general neurologist and senior director of clinical practice at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, Illinoissaid Fox News Digital in an interview.
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Meanwhile, the baby boomer generation has started to live to be 65 and older, putting them at greatest risk for Alzheimer’s, the report said.
“Thanks to advances in medical technology and healthier lifestyles, people are living longer than ever before,” said Gary Small, MD, chair of psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jerseysaid Fox News Digital in an email.
“Because age is the single largest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, as our population ages, so will the number of people affected by the disease.”
Staff shortages and increasing gap in care
Neurologists and geriatricians are considered the best medical professionals to recommend treatments for people with Alzheimer’s, and geriatricians are generally best equipped to provide day-to-day care, the report said.
(Geriatricians are general practitioners with a specialized focus on treatment of elderly patientswhile neurologists specialize in treating diseases that affect the nervous system, including Alzheimer’s.)
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However, the increasing shortage of medical professionals presents many with a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
“We already have medical staff shortages and they will only increase as the population ages and we keep people alive longer,” said Dr. Purcell of Chicago.
“As our population ages, so does the number of people affected by the disease.”
Effectively caring for the nearly 13 million seniors expected to have Alzheimer’s by 2050 would require nearly three times as many geriatricians as there are currently, the report says.
“Age discrimination, limited reimbursement, and other factors have contributed to a labor shortage of geriatric internists and psychiatrists who specialize in the assessment and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Small.
“Without a major change in public policy to incentivize the training of geriatric specialists, the key healthcare providers for these patients will continue to exist general practitioners.”
dr Stanley Appel, co-director of the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute at Coya Therapeutics in Houston, Texashas been researching all types of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, for more than 40 years.
While he acknowledges that staff shortages are a problem, efforts should be directed towards developing effective and meaningful therapies for patients, rather than just training more geriatricians.
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“There’s no way the healthcare system in any country — even one as advanced as the United States — can handle such high rates of disease progression,” said Dr. Appel in an interview with Fox News Digital.
“I believe we need to deal with the disease instead of just developing more nurses and doctors to deal with it growing population of very ill patients.”
Promising progress, but early diagnosis crucial
dr Purcell noted that Alzheimer’s research is very active around the world.
There are currently seven FDA-approved drugs to treat Alzheimer’s, five of which target only the symptoms, the report said.
Only two of them, aducanumab and lecanemab, are working to treat the actual brain changes and biology that cause the disease. Additional treatments are in the research phase.
Although these developments offer some hope for people living with Alzheimer’s and their families, Dr. Purcell said it’s important to note that the drugs are only for use in the early stages of the disease.
“That means it’s important for people with symptoms to go to their GP, have those talks and get a diagnosis,” she added.
Many fail to seek help
According to the new report, just four in 10 people said they would see their doctor at the first sign of memory loss or other cognitive problems.
“Many older adults believe their age-related forgetfulness is normal, but early detection and intervention lead to better outcomes.”
“There is tremendous stigma and fear of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Small to Fox News Digital.
“The early symptoms are mild and gradual and are often perceived as normal aging. Many older adults believe their age-related forgetfulness is normal, but early detection and intervention leads to better outcomes. It’s important to make people aware of the early symptoms to motivate them to seek help.”
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One of the key findings of the report, according to Dr. Purcell said people who have memory or cognition difficulties do not have early discussions with their GPs.
In most cases, she said, doctors generally wait for the person or a loved one to raise their concerns during a clinical visit. This underscores the need for improved communication on both sides.
High costs for families
The report says the total cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias in the United States is expected to reach $345 billion this year — a $24 billion increase from last year.
“Costs of care include both the direct medical care provided to the patient and the indirect costs of family care, such as lost work and income for the patient who is unable to work due to illness,” he told Dr. Small.
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Ultimately, Alzheimer’s, as Dr. Appel noted a family disease — not just emotionally but financially as well.
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“We need better education of our population about the risk factors and things we can do symptomatically,” he said.
“But I’m optimistic that we will have therapies that will help fill this dramatic unmet need.”
Source : www.foxnews.com