Annual Costs of Dementia Care Exceed GDP, New Report Says

brainsThe global cost of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will be $604 billion in 2010, more than 1 percent of the world’s GDP. This statistic comes from a new report issued Tuesday, which was World Alzheimer’s Day, by international organization Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI).

The organization’s World Alzheimer Report 2010 details the staggering economic and social costs of dementia. Among the report’s other conclusions: If dementia care were a company, it would be the world’s largest in terms of annual revenue, surpassing even Wal-Mart. The number of people with dementia is expected to double by 2030, and more than triple by 2050. An estimated 35.6 million people worldwide currently have Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the report, while data from individual countries suggests that dementia is one of the world’s costliest illnesses, it also garners much less research and investment than other major illnesses. The report recommends that government and research funders worldwide increase funding in proportion to the severity of the economic burden caused by Alzheimer’s. According to the ADI press release, “Recently published data from the UK suggests that a 15-fold increase is required to reach parity with research into heart disease, and a 30-fold increase to achieve parity with cancer research.”

An increase in funding would aid researchers who are seeking ways to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s. Two recent scientific discoveries hold promise for new pathways to treatment. U.S. researchers announced Wednesday that a brain-protecting enzyme may help prevent the formation of a toxic protein that kills brain cells in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Reuters reports that restoring levels of the enzyme, known as SIRT1, could be the basis for a new Alzheimer’s treatment, as patients with the disease tend to have low levels of SIRT1. Earlier this month, another team of researchers discovered a gene linked to the aggressive progression of Alzheimer’s. Bloomberg reports that the discovery could help pharmaceutical companies looking to test Alzheimer’s treatments by identifying patients whose illness may progress more quickly and who therefore may respond more quickly to drugs.

Some companies currently developing Alzheimer’s treatments include Cephalon, Addex Pharmaceuticals, FoldRx Pharmaceuticals, Intellect Neurosciences and D-Pharm. Scotland-based Aquapharm Biodiscovery announced Tuesday that it had signed an agreement with Dundee University to develop Alzheimer’s drugs made with marine organisms.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the cost of care for Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. is expected to increase from $172 billion in 2010 to $1.08 trillion per year by 2050. With the personal and financial costs of Alzheimer’s poised to rise so dramatically in the coming decades, it seems that new modes of prevention and treatment can’t arrive fast enough.

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