Almost 15 Million in the U.S. Care for Alzheimer's Patients

Almost 15 million people care for U.S. patients with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, providing 17 billion hours of unpaid help valued at $202.6 billion, an advocacy group said.

There are more unpaid caregivers, mostly family members and friends, than people who live in Illinois, the fifth-largest state, according to an annual report from the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association today.

The number of people living with Alzheimer's, the most-common form of dementia, has risen to an estimated 5.4 million as fewer people die from heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, HIV and prostate cancer, the group said. One in eight people at least 65 years old is estimated to have Alzheimer's, a percentage that will increase as more people live longer, the association said.

"Every time we save a person from another disease, they're a potential customer of Alzheimer's disease," said William Thies, the chief medical and scientific officer for the Alzheimer's group.

Rates of deaths from Alzheimer's rose 66 percent from 2000 through 2008, the report said. The costs of Alzheimer's and dementia will be about $183 billion this year, about $11 billion more than last year, the group estimates.

Alzheimer's destroys brain cells progressively, making it difficult for patients to think, remember, and function. The time it takes to decline because of the ailment varies from five or six years to more than two decades, Thies said.

Three Caregivers

Each person with Alzheimer's disease generally has three caregivers, Thies said.

Caregivers should build a plan for the Alzheimer's patient early, when that person can still help, said Beth Kallmyer, the senior director of constituent services for the Alzheimer's Association. Those helpers should remember to go to the doctor themselves, and ask for assistance when they feel overwhelmed, she said.

Earlier diagnosis can help with planning for care as patients decline, Thies said. There are six drugs in late-stage clinical testing designed to delay the progression of Alzheimer's, including Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson's bapineuzumab, and Eli Lilly & Co.'s solanezumab.

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