Thursday, June 10, 2010

Care or cure?

kw: musings, aging, dementia

Yesterday's post about Making the Rounds With Oscar renewed my consideration of aging and dementia. I found a document online that gave me some numbers ("Prevalence of Dementia in the United States: The Aging, Demographics, and Memory Study" by B. L. Plassman et al, found here).

Of course, the most important variable is age. In the sample, made in 2002, the breakdown of people 71 and older is thus, by decade:
  • 71-79 5.0%
  • 80-89 24.2%
  • 90+ 37.4%
Considering that those over 85 are the fastest-growing segment of the population, those are grim numbers. Absent effective treatments for, primarily, Alzheimer's Syndrome, end-of-life care for demented elderly will take up great amounts of caregivers' time, and prove very costly.

As an example, my Father found the most economical option he could for caring for my Mother, supplementary care in addition to his own efforts. This was enough for a time, and the cost was a few thousand dollars monthly. But once her care required round-the-clock attention by professionals, the cost rose to $9,000 monthly, and he was still wearing himself out doing just a portion of the care, and with some help from one of my brothers who lived two hours away.

In a few years, the numbers of Americans requiring such care will be about ten million. $90 billion per month comes to $1 trillion per year. Public spending for dementia care in 2009 was about $170 billion. Contrast either figure with the national budget for dementia research, just over a billion dollars (I found it hard to determine any figures at all, let alone accurate ones).

We need to do better than that. An effective preventive or treatment will always be less costly than meliorative care. It will be even more economical of the time and emotional well-being of family members.

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