Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost 1 percent of the gross domestic product globally this year and that treatment tab will grow, making urgent the need for more research toward a cure, an advocacy group said.
Seventy percent of an estimated $604 billion will be paid in North America and Western Europe, the group, London-based Alzheimer’s Disease International, said in a report Tuesday. The global price will exceed $1 trillion annually by 2030, with 65.7 million people affected, up from 35.6 million in 2010, according to the report. Alzheimer’s strikes mostly people 65 or older.
While hurting more patients than either cancer or heart disease, dementia attracts less research money, the organization said. Governments worldwide need to “make dementia a health priority” as the generation of baby boomers born after World War II begins to turn 65 next year, the group urged.
“There’s inadequate funding right now, because there is inadequate awareness and inadequate concern,” said Bill Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, a nonprofit group based in Chicago, in a telephone interview. “We are in the early stages of an epidemic, and every day we waste now is a day we don’t have.”
Alzheimer’s Disease International is a federation of national associations, including the Chicago-based group, that press governments to allot more resources to fight dementia. The report’s price tag for dementia reflects medical and social care by doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and community support services. The total also includes family members’ unpaid work, which was assigned a value by the researchers.
In the report, which was released to mark World Alzheimer’s Day, the international group urged on governments to increase research funding to “a level proportionate to the economic burden of the condition.” The paper cites published British data that show funding would have to rise 15-fold to match the research commitment in heart disease and 30-fold to match cancer funding.
“There’s no question that this is a public-health crisis,” said Laura Carstensen, the director of the Center on Longevity at Stanford University. “Unless we find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, we’re facing major, major problems with aging populations.”
Carstensen called the amount of money allocated for Alzheimer’s “ridiculously low,” given the numbers of people affected.
“Alzheimer’s will be at the top of the list of global public-health problems within the next 10 years,” she said in a telephone interview. Carstensen isn’t an author of the Alzheimer’s Disease International report.
In the United States, the National Institutes of Health, the largest single source of research money in the country, budgeted $1.1 billion for the National Institute on Aging, which leads the agency’s work on Alzheimer’s, according to the NIH website. That compares with more than $5 billion for the National Cancer Institute and $4 billion for the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
On specific research grants, the NIH website shows that $400 million to $500 million was budgeted annually for Alzheimer’s from 2007 to 2010. Money from the 2009 economic stimulus legislation pushed spending to $534 million in 2009 and $527 million this year.
That compares with $6.13 billion for general cancer research and an additional $2.4 billion for specific types of cancer in 2010, the website shows. NIH, based in Bethesda, Maryland, allocated $1.9 billion for heart disease and an additional $2.36 billion for cardiovascular diseases.
“We in the U.S. have been trying for some time now to get our policy makers to pay attention to Alzheimer’s in a way that they would another kind of crisis,” said Harry Johns, the president and chief executive officer of the Alzheimer’s Association in the U.S. “There is no other situation where the scale and impact are so great, and so little has been done by our federal policy makers to change the course of the disease.”
In the U.S., the current cost is estimated at $172 billion a year, with 5.3 million sufferers, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
The U.S. and other nations need the same kind of “focused and concerted” effort on dementia as was made in the past 20 years to alleviate AIDS, Johns said in a telephone interview. About $3 billion annually is spent on AIDS, he said.
“That effort has allowed that disease to move from a certain death sentence to a chronic condition,” he said. “In Alzheimer’s, we have no treatment that slows or stops the disease.”