Dementia costs more to treat than heart disease or cancer, study finds

RAND Corp. publishes study in New England Journal of Medicine

NEW YORK — The annual cost of treating dementia in the United States ranges from $157 billion to $215 billion, according to a new study by the RAND Corp.

The research organization said that number meant dementia costs more to treat than cancer or heart disease, with the greatest cost coming from institutional and home-based long-term care, as opposed to medical services.

The study appeared in the April 4 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine and was funded by the National Institute on Aging, using data from the Health and Retirement Study, which receives support from the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration. The Health and Retirement Study is an ongoing study of people ages 51 years and older that began in 1992.

"The economic burden of caring for people in the United States with dementia is large and growing larger," lead study author and RAND Corp. senior economist Michael Hurd said. "Our findings underscore the urgency of recent federal efforts to develop a coordinated plan to address the growing impact of dementia on American society."

The organization said the new study provides a clearer idea of the disease's economic burden because it eliminates costs related to other illnesses that affect dementia patients, accounts for variations in the severity of dementia and uses a better estimate of the incidence of the disease, thus providing a lower cost estimate than those reported by the Alzheimer's Association.

According to estimates in the study, 14.7% of Americans ages 71 years and older suffered from dementia in 2010, a smaller number than those in older and smaller studies, and the total economic cost was estimated at $109 billion for care purchased, a figure that increased to between $159 billion and $215 billion when the monetary value of informal care was included. Medicare paid about $11 billion of dementia-related costs, which were estimated at between $41,689 and $56,290 per person.

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