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Marketplace Morning Report

Dementia is highest cost disease and rising

Dan Gorenstein Apr 4, 2013
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A report in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine says the U.S. spends more on treating dementia than any other disease including cancer and heart disease.

Annual spending already tops $100 billion for direct treatment; tack on $50-100 billion for informal care like the cost of leaving your job to care for a parent. That works out to $50,000 per person. And those costs are expected to double by 2040.

Dementia carves away the ability of people to care for themselves. Rand economist Michael Hurd, who authored the study, says it’s no mystery why we spend more treating this disease than any other.

“The big cost is the cost for nursing homes, and nursing homes cost a lot,” says Hurd, who adds that nursing homes and in-home care makes up at least 75 percent of all spending.

About 4 million Americans suffer from some form of dementia today. By 2040, that number is expected to reach 9 million.

“The message is we need to do some science,” says Hurd.

Drug companies like Eli Lilly and Pfizer are trying, but IHS analyst Gustav Ando says so far, no dice.

“Company executives will kind of sit there and wonder, ‘well, if Pfizer couldn’t do this, or if Lilly couldn’t do this, then why on earth should we enter this area?’” he says.

Several drugs are in early trials, but analysts say viability is likely years away. Meanwhile, the financial — and emotional — costs continue to grow.

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