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Early Alzheimer's diagnosis: The $8 trillion savings opportunity

Diagnosing patients during the mild cognitive impairment stage could both save money and make the condition more manageable in the long run.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

With an aging baby boomer population and ever-larger numbers of people being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, the cost of treating the disease has reached significant levels, and according to a report from the Alzheimer's Association, the cost will only grow: it's projected to surpass $277 billion this year and reach as high as $1.1 trillion by 2050.

By that time, the number of Americans officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's could reach nearly 14 million, at least if current rates hold.

[Also: Study claims US healthcare not prepared to advance emerging Alzheimer's therapies]

Yet despite the sobering projections, there's a silver lining from a cost perspective. Early detection is the key. Diagnosis during the mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, stage of the disease could save up to $7.9 trillion and also make the condition's effects more manageable as the person ages.

Medicare and Medicaid feel the cost impact as well. While Medicare typically pays about $7,000 per year for an Alzheimer's-free individual, a person with the disease costs about $23,000. Those figures become compounded when factoring in Alzheimer's rising prevalence, with one in 10 people age 65 and older showing symptoms of the disease, and Alzheimer's deaths rising 123 percent between 2000 and 2015.

That in turn has a significant impact on utilization, with the report showing people suffering from Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia having twice as many hospital stays per year as others in their age group. On top of that, Medicare beneficiaries with Alzheimer's or other dementias are more likely than those without dementia to have other chronic conditions. 

The approximate lifetime cost of care for a person living with Alzheimer's in 2018 is $341,840, according to the report.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com