The Alzheimer’s disease death rate in the United States increased 55 percent from 1999–2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase is likely due to an aging population, earlier diagnosis of the disease, increased reporting by those who record the cause of death, and fewer deaths from other illnesses that normally affect the elderly, such as heart disease and stroke (CDC press release, May 25, 2017).
The Alzheimer’s death rate will likely continue to increase before it begins to dip. It all comes down to the numbers. The disease is the fifth-leading cause of death among people aged 65 years and older in the United States, according to the CDC. And this population is increasing drastically. Baby boomers—those born from 1946 and 1964—are aging into Medicare at the rate of approximately 10,000 people a day, which will continue until 2029. There are 75.4 million baby boomers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
While nursing home care is limited for Medicare beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s, most deaths resulting from the disease occur in a nursing home or long-term care facility. However, this decreased over the 15-year span, dropping from 68 percent in 1999 to 54 percent in 2014 (CDC press release, May 25, 2017). These deaths were most likely advanced cases that required a hospitalization.
This “silver tsunami” has major ramifications for the healthcare industry, which is not prepared to deal with the sheer volume of patients who may eventually need long-term care. For Alzheimer’s patients aged 65 and older, Medicare covers inpatient hospital care and some physician fees and other items. Nursing home care is limited to 100 days and must occur after a hospitalization, but long-term nursing home care or long-term in-home care are not covered. In addition, Medicare pays for up to 35 hours per week for in-home healthcare for homebound individuals.
Family members are the main caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients, which will present even more challenges. Caregivers often have to drop out of the work force in order to provide care, and they face healthcare issues of their own that are caused by the stress of caregiving.
There are no easy solutions, but the situation cannot go ignored. As a demographic group, baby boomers have often been ridiculed as being self-absorbed, for taking more than they give. But their voices are heard. The need for Alzheimer’s care in the coming years will bring about necessary changes in healthcare. Baby boomers and their caregivers will be the ones leading the charge.
Joyce Caruthers is a Senior Analyst for Decision Resources Group. Follow her on Twitter @JCaruthersDRG.
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