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Dementia is highest cost disease and rising

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.

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.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.
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I really think that we have to start talking about national health and stop exclusively talking about national health care. It will take a generation (which in the scheme of things is a very short time), but we should start more full-tilt initiatives to influence people to eat better and exercise...one problem will be circumventing the corporate interests who will lose money when most people eat well and take care of themselves...perhaps induce them to offer well-being services and products? At any rate, if we can do this, everyone wins. If we take the path of drugs to fix it, things will get worse. Treat the problem, not the symptom.

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