Alzheimer's Disease: A Growing Burden

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Alzheimer’s disease—a progressive and fatal condition in which cells in certain parts of the brain are destroyed—creates severe problems in memory, judgment, ability to organize simple tasks and even speech. The most common form of irreversible dementia, the condition has no cure or even disease-modifying treatment.

An estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease in 2015. Age is the single greatest risk factor for the disease. One in nine people 65 and older (11 percent) have Alzheimer’s.1

  • 5.1 million Americans with Alzheimer’s are 65 or older.
  • Younger-onset Alzheimer’s affects an additional 200,000 people.
  • About one-third of people who live to be 85 or older develop Alzheimer’s.
  • The vast majority of those with Alzheimer’s are 75 or older—81 percent.
  • Almost two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are women. Earlier thinking was that this difference was because women live longer on average than men, but some studies suggest some increased risk may be directly linked to gender. Biological and genetic factors are cited in some studies, including one genotype that has a stronger association with Alzheimer’s in women than in men. In other studies, life experiences such as type and amount of education and occupation may play a role.
  • Older African-Americans are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s and older Hispanics are one and one half times as likely to have the disease and other forms of dementia as compared to older whites. Differences in health, lifestyle and socioeconomic risk seem to account for the disparity, not genetic factors related to race and ethnicity.

The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to increase in the next 10 years. No state is immune from this trend. The anticipated upward trend is due to the rising number of baby boomers who will be turning 65 over the time period, as well as the increased life expectancy of Americans. The number of new cases of Alzheimer’s is projected to double by 2050.2

  • By 2025, the number of people 65 and older with Alzheimer’s will increase by 40 percent, from 5.1 million to 7.1 million.
  • The 10 states with a largest projected 10-year increase—more than 44 percent—are Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.
  • The 10 states with the smallest projected 10-year increase—between 14.3 and 21.6 percent—are Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The sixth leading cause of death across all ages in the United States is Alzheimer’s disease and among those 65 and older, Alzheimer’s in the fifth leading cause, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.3

  • The distinction between death with Alzheimer’s and death from Alzheimer’s may be blurred.
  • According to Medicare data, one-third of all seniors who die in a given year have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.4
  • A recent study suggested that dementia was the second largest contributing factor to death among those over 65, only behind heart failure.5

The amount of unpaid caregiving provided to people with Alzheimer’s disease is staggering. In 2014, nearly 18 billion hours in unpaid care was provided by relatives and friends.6

  • Unpaid caregiving was valued at $217.7 billion dollars in 2014.
  • The value of this informal care is nearly equal to the costs of direct medical and long-term care for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
  • Two-thirds of unpaid caregivers are women and one-third of unpaid caregivers are 65 or older.
  • About half of unpaid caregivers are taking care of parents.
  • About half—47 percent—of caregivers live within 20 minutes of the care recipient. Another 27 percent live in the same home as the care recipient.
  • The duration of unpaid caregiving is likely to be long for those with Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly half—43 percent—reported providing care between one and four years to people with Alzheimer’s. Another 32 percent provided care for five or more years.
  • Caregiving takes a toll on relatives and friends. The additional national health care costs incurred by caregivers and as a result of caregiving are estimated to top $9 million annually.


1 Alzheimer’s Association. 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Alzheimer’s & Dementia 2015;11(3)332+. 
2 Ibid.
3 National Center for Health Statistics. Deaths: Final data for 2013. National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 64, No. 2. 
4 Alzheimer’s Association. 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.

Alzheimer's Disease: A Growing Burden