March 24, 2009 / 1:24 PM / 11 years ago

Group says 5.3 million in U.S. have Alzheimer's

A split-view image showing PET scans of a normal brain (L) and a brain with Alzheimer's disease. REUTERS/National Institute on Aging/Handout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and each patient on average costs Medicare three times more than patients without the disease, the Alzheimer’s Association reported on Tuesday.

In its annual report on the brain-wasting illness, the group projected that by 2010, nearly a half-million new cases of Alzheimer’s will develop each year as the population ages and by 2050 a million new cases will be diagnosed annually.

“Direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias amount to more than $148 billion annually,” the group said in a statement.

“A strategy to immediately confront Alzheimer’s has the potential to save millions of lives and billions of dollars by reducing the burden on Medicare and Medicaid,” said Harry Johns, Alzheimer’s Association chief executive officer.

The number of deaths from Alzheimer’s, the sixth-leading cause of mortality in the United States, rose by more than 47 percent between 2000 and 2006, the group said.

And these patients, who begin with memory loss but progress to confusion and eventually an inability to walk or care for themselves, cost far more to treat than most other patients. There is no cure and the few drugs available only mildly affect symptoms.

“Average per person Medicaid payments were nine times higher; Medicare payments were three times higher, and private insurance payments were 26 percent higher for those with Alzheimer’s compared to those without Alzheimer’s,” the group said in a statement. Medicare and Medicaid are U.S. government health insurance programs for the elderly and poor.

The Alzheimer’s Association said it estimates nearly 10 million caregivers in the United States spent 8.5 billion hours collectively in 2008 providing unpaid care to Alzheimer’s patients.

Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Michael Kahn and Eric Beech

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