WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — The cost of care for Americans living with dementia reaches nearly $215 billion annually.

A National Institutes of Health study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that national expenditures in 2010 for dementia among people aged 71 and older were found to be $159 billion to $215 billion. And the average cost per patient can exceed $50,000 each year.

The total cost accounts for the massive network of informal and unpaid care on top of direct medical expenditures — $11 billion of which is paid for by Medicare. And with baby boomers and the overall U.S. population aging, experts expect these numbers to increase.

“Our calculations suggest that the aging of the U.S. population will result in an increase of nearly 80 percent in total societal costs per adult by 2040,” the researchers wrote. Health officials are bracing for what is being labeled a “silver tsunami” of baby boomers reaching into their senior years.

According to the Mayo Clinic, dementia is not a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting intellectual and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. Many causes of dementia symptoms exist. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of a progressive dementia.

For the new study, researchers started with nearly 11,000 people in a long-running government health survey of a nationally representative sample of the population. They gave 856 of these people extensive tests to determine how many were afflicted with dementia, and projected that to the larger group to determine a prevalence rate — nearly 15 percent of people over age 70.

Assuming cost and prevalence rates remain the same, they estimated a 79 percent increase in costs driven by an aging population.

A February study published in Neurology estimated the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple by 2050, from 4.7 million patients in 2010 to 13.8 million by 2050.

Alzheimer’s is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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