Dementia is a lot like cancer—if you or a loved one haven’t had a personal experience with it, you probably know someone who has. And by the year 2060, researchers predict even fewer degrees of separation will exist between people whose lives dementia has touched: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.), predicted that the number of people across the country will rise to 13.9 million with the next 40 years.
Currently, 1.6 percent of the population, or about five million people, have dementia. The C.D.C. predicts that number will rise to 3.3 percent based on projections for the population’s aging as a whole. In 40 years there will be more older people, the C.D.C. reasoned, and thus, more dementia. And while Caucasian people will have the greatest increase in numbers, the large spike in percentages are predicted in minorities, as people of color will make up a greater percentage of the population.
The study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, based the findings on data from 28 million Medicare recipients. The risk for Alzheimer’s disease, which currently has no cure or treatment that slows its progression, will rise over time because more people are living longer without other diseases, the C.D.C. predicted.
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Minorities already have higher percentages of dementia. Among the older population, 13.8 percent of African Americans and 12.2 percent of Hispanics have dementia, compared to 10.3 percent of non-Hispanic whites over the age of 65. American Indian and Alaska Natives are at 9.1 percent and Asian and Pacific Islanders are at 8.4 percent. And while all of those numbers are projected to steadily rise, growing by 178 percent overall, the percentage increase breaks down as follows: 75 percent for non-Hispanic whites, 172 percent for African Americans, 270 percent for Asian and Pacific Islanders, 274 percent for American Indian and Alaska Natives, and 391 percent for Hispanics.
“This study shows that as the U.S. population increases, the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias will rise, especially among minority populations,” said Robert R. Redfield, M.D., the director of the C.D.C. “Early diagnosis is key to helping people and their families cope with loss of memory, navigate the health care system, and plan for their care in the future.”
The earlier people are diagnosed, the better they can handle the illness, according to a report released by the Alzheimer’s Association earlier this year. An early diagnosis can also save up to 15 percent of the cost of care—big savings for a disease that cost $277 billion in the U.S. alone every year.
“It is important for people who think their daily lives are impacted by memory loss to discuss these concerns with a health care provider,” said Kevin Matthews, Ph.D., health geographer and lead author of the study. An early assessment and diagnosis is key to planning for their health care needs, including long-term services and supports, as the disease progresses,”