While Alzheimer’s disease was accounted for roughly 83,000 deaths in 2010, making it the sixth leading cause of death, a new study has revealed it is in fact in the top three of causes of death in the U.S. According to the new study, Alzheimer’s deaths in 2010 reached as high as 503,000, putting it on the third place, right behind heart disease and cancer.
With Alzheimer’s disease quickly rising, the annual cost for the nation is estimated to be $210 billion and is expected to rise to $1.2 trillion by 2050. Keith Fargo, director of Scientific Programs and Outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association, says higher costs can be prevented. “An estimated funding of $2 billion per year is required in the coming decade in order to see a significant improvement in treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, but in 2012 funding was only $500 million, well below the funding for heart diseases and cancer,” says Fargo, disappointed that Alzheimer’s disease is not a top priority for funding, while it is in the top three of causes of death. He adds, “It is a fatal brain disease that needs to be taken seriously. If we have the right investment, we will be able to make big steps, similar to what researchers have done for heart disease and cancer.”
With the new study results, published in the Medical Journal of the American Academy of Neurology on Wednesday, the U.S. might start focusing on Alzheimer’s disease more. Bryan James, lead author of the study, says, “The way the U.S. looks at death certificates and registration could be improved. Death certificates are not the best way to measure how many people die from Alzheimer’s disease, as the disease takes up to 10 years to break down a person’s brain. The truth is that the disease leaves patients more vulnerable to infections and other health problems. We are not saying that patients did not die from these problems, but what put them in the hospital with that condition? What was the underlying cause?” James expects that scenarios for Alzheimer’s disease will become worse, if researchers continue to have a lack of funding. “In the next 20 years, it could even catch up with heart disease and cancer.”
Although professionals in the field expected an undercount in deaths, caused by Alzheimer’s disease, some are surprised to hear the study results. “Anybody who knows about the death and disease registration system in the U.S. understands that there must be an undercount, but the question was always how much of an undercount? It is shocking and it would be good if we could improve the death registration system,” says Dallas Anderson, science administrator for Population Studies of Alzheimer’s at the National Institute of Aging.
For the fiscal year of 2015, President Obama has included $100 million for funding for Alzheimer’s disease. The funds will go to an initiative to map the brain and to better understand the disease, but James thinks it will not be enough. He says, “Cancer has 10 times as much funding as Alzheimer’s disease, but has only about three times as much deaths. People tend to think that Alzheimer’s disease is just a memory problem, when in fact it is one of the top causes of deaths in the nation.”
By Diana Herst