US rise in Alzheimer's 'may ruin health care'

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The Independent US

A cataclysmic warning that the US health system could be overwhelmed by the growth in the number of elderly Americans suffering from Alzheimer's disease was made by researchers yesterday.

New estimates suggest that the numbers affected by the degenerative disease, which requires round-the-clock care, will rise to 13.2 million by about 2050 - three times the 4.5 million people affected today.

The increase is much higher than previous estimates made over a decade ago by the same researchers from the Rush Institute for Healthy Ageing in Chicago and others. The reason is the rapid ageing of the US population. The oldest age group - over 85s - is rising much faster than expected and by 2030 nearly half those affected will be over 85.

Sheldon Goldberg, president of the Alzheimer's Association, which funded the study, said: "If left unchecked it is no exaggeration to say that Alzheimer's disease will destroy the healthcare system and bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid."

Only by pouring more money into research could a "looming public health disaster" be averted, he said.

While Britain will also see a startling increase in rates of the disease over the same period, the rise will be less pronounced than in the US because Europe has an older population than the US, according to Harry Cayton, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Disease Society in the UK. He said: "There is absolutely no doubt that the number of people with Alzheimer's and other dementias is going to grow very dramatically."

More than half the money spent by the NHS is already taken up by the problems of old age. But the rise in UK cases between now and 2050 was likely to be 150 per cent, Mr Cayton said. "I wouldn't envisage that our healthcare system would collapse."

The study, published in Archives of Neurology, says the incidence of the disease in the US will rise 27 per cent by 2020; 70 per cent by 2030 - and soar 300 per cent by 2050.

Economic studies have shown that by 2010, Medicare spending on Alzheimer's will rise to $49.1bn (£31bn) - 54 per cent up on 2000 - and Medicaid spending will rise to $33bn (£21bn), or 80 per cent higher.

Mr Goldberg said: "Our choice is clearer than ever - either increase funding for research to fend off this looming health disaster, or sit back and wait for it to overwhelm the healthcare system."