ALZHEIMER’S: Costs Employers $33 Billion Annually
Alzheimer's disease costs American businesses about $33 billion a year, according to a study released yesterday by the National Alzheimer's Association. Employers spend more than $7 billion on health insurance and taxes to pay for Medicare, Medicaid and ongoing federal research for Alzheimer's, but the lion's share of the cost -- $26 billion -- comes from the millions of working Americans' lost productivity and absenteeism associated with caring for a family member with Alzheimer's (report text, 9/3). These "2.3 million sons, daughters and other primary caregivers who lose sleep, energy, work time and productivity" are driving the cost, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. "My estimate is conservative. It doesn't include the impact of Alzheimer's on secondary caregivers, or people with the disease who are still working. It doesn't include people who retire prematurely or go part time, the loss of institutional memory or the other family problems caused by the care-giving stress," said the study's lead author, Dr. Ross Koppel, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, yesterday. In addition, Koppel said the problem would only get worse as the baby boomer generation ages.
Losing Sleep Over It
"Nobody who hasn't been there truly understands the price that workers pay to help relatives with Alzheimer's," said Koppel. He estimates these caregivers miss nearly 24 work days a year as a result of "[i]nterruptions, missed days and emergency trips," costing businesses about $8 billion annually; lost productivity costs industry another $13 million (Wolfe, 9/10). "We have known for a long time that Alzheimer's creates huge costs for families and for public programs like Medicaid. But no one has ever quantified the cost of the disease to business," said Edward Truschke, president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association. He said the study "provides compelling new evidence that the nation needs to expand its research on Alzheimer's disease in order to head off an epidemic of disastrous proportions as baby boomers reach the age of highest risk" (Alzheimer's Association release, 9/9). "Alzheimer's disease costs American business more than the combined profits of Exxon, General Motors and Philip Morris, the nation's most profitable firms. We must get this disease under control," said Truschke.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, the disease's cost to society as a whole is $100 billion a year. But, Reuters/Detroit Free Press reports, "that figure looks only at direct health costs -- hospitalization, medication and other care needs" (Fox, 9/10). Koppel said the national cost is double that amount -- "really more like $200 billion." The Star Tribune reports that Alzheimer's is the "third-costliest disease in the United States, behind heart problems and cancer." Care for Alzheimer's patients is "extraordinarily high because they can live for many years while needing constant supervision."
Baby Boomer Boom
The Alzheimer's Association yesterday called for increasing federal spending on Alzheimer's research by $100 million above this year's $350 million figure (release, 9/9). The Star Tribune reports that "Congress is considering proposals to raise spending by 9% to 15% next year" (9/10). A Johns Hopkins University study says there are 2.32 million Americans living with Alzheimer's, but that figure will "nearly quadruple" in the next 50 years. Published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the study found that the annual number of new cases is 360,000, meaning that in 50 years one in every 45 Americans will suffer from the malady. However, if steps were taken to "delay onset of the disease by 2 years," there would be 2 million fewer cases in 50 years; if onset were delayed by one year, there would be about 800,000 fewer cases in the future. The researchers conclude: "As the U.S. population ages, Alzheimer's disease will become an enormous public health problem. Interventions that could delay disease onset even modestly would have a major public health impact" (Brookmeyer et al, September 1998). The Alzheimer's Association's website is www. alz.org.