Alzheimer’s Patients May Triple by 2050—RI Experts React

Wednesday, February 06, 2013


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A new report predicts that the number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease will triple by the year 2050. What does this mean for Rhode Islanders and our healthcare system?

The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple in the next 40 years, according to a new study published in the February 6, 2013, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. And in Rhode Island, which has the largest percentage of its population that's age 85 or older in the country, this projection has major implications. 

“This increase is due to an aging baby boom generation. It will place a huge burden on society, disabling more people who develop the disease, challenging their caregivers, and straining medical and social safety nets,” said co-author Jennifer Weuve, MPH, ScD, assistant professor of medicine, Rush Institute for Healthy Aging at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Our study draws attention to an urgent need for more research, treatments and preventive strategies to reduce this epidemic.”

"We are on the verge of a Tsunami," said Carmen Roy, RN, MPH and owner of Elder at Home, a Pawtucket-based geriatric care management company consulting to elders and their families on aging, dementia, health advocacy, future planning, and end of life wishes. "Families are faced with caregiving over many many years and are making themselves sick," Roy said.

GoLocalProv spoke with Brian Ott, MD, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center at Rhode Island Hospital, about the latest figures. 

The headline here is bold--the number of Americans with Alzheimer's may triple as soon as 2050. Does this seem extreme to you, or foreseeable?

These figures are not at all surprising, and they do confirm estimates that have previously been made by the Alzheimer’s Association and others.

What trends do you see here in Rhode Island with regards to the number of people with the disease?

According to the US census bureau, “the state containing the largest percentage of the population 85 years and over in 2010 was Rhode Island. In 2010, people 85 years and over made up 2.5 percent of the total state population compared with 2.0 percent in 2000. This increase in the share of total state population in the oldest-old ages moved Rhode Island from being ranked fifth in 2000 to first in 2010 among states ranked by percentage of the population in the age group 85 years and over.”

While there was a slight overall decline in the percentage of our state’s population over age 65 in the last census, these figures suggest that Alzheimer’s disease will be a particularly large problem in our state in years ahead, as the prevalence rises steeply as one moves into advancing years. For example, one study done in East Boston found that 47% of people age 85 and above had some degree of dementia, most likely due to Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association projects that at current rates, the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease in Rhode Island may increase by 0-24% by 2025. Currently there are an estimated 24,000 people in Rhode Island with the disease.

Rhode Island has an aging population, and a high median age compared to many other states. Will a trend like this affect local healthcare disproportionally?

The higher median age would be associated with greater costs of medical care, particularly with regards to costs for care of age associated chronic debilitating illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease.

What do you see as the central challenges to RI's healthcare system with regards to this kind of increase in people with Alzheimer's?

We need to come up with more innovative and cost effective ways to care for people with dementia, with an emphasis on homecare services and support for family caregivers. Homecare is more desirable to families, and less expensive to the state, than institutional care but requires the time and support of non-professional family caregivers as well as home service workers.

We need a well-coordinated system of care. Currently there are many services available to people in our state, but there is no central point where people can arrange for the services that are needed.

Finally we need more support for research aimed at finding effective ways to delay the onset of dementia and ultimately find a cure. An often cited statistical estimate is that if we can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by just five years, we could cut the number of people suffering from this tragic disease in half.

What do we need to do to prepare?

To this end, the office of the Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island is leading an initiative to develop a statewide plan for Alzheimer care in our state. For more information on this initiative, contact

Lindsay McAllister, Esq.
Health Policy Director
Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts
(401) 222-5382

This effort brings together professional stakeholders as well as the patients and family members through community outreach meetings in the planning process.

This is part of a larger national effort initiated last year by the Obama administration called the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA). For more information on this go here


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