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Baby Boomers Health & Retirement

Alzheimer’s: a defining disease for aging Baby Boomers

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caregiver with family member

Most people survive an average of four to six years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But many can live for another 20 years.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 93,000 people each year. The progressive and fatal brain disorder causes issues with memory, thinking and behavior. Currently without a cure, Alzheimer’s has a good chance of being one of the defining diseases for Baby Boomers as they age.

Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Once someone reaches 65, their risk of developing the disease significantly increases. An estimated one in eight baby boomers will get the disease after they turn 65. At age 85, that risk increases to nearly one in two.

The disease currently affects more than 5 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. By 2040, when the Baby Boomer generation will be from 76 to 94 years old, Medicare costs related to Alzheimer’s are projected to account for more than 24 percent of total Medicare spending, or about $328 billion in 2014 dollars, recent analysis has shown.

Alzheimer’s is a family matter

It’s not just the person with Alzheimer’s that suffers, the caregivers — typically family and friends — often take the brunt of the disease. It is particularly hard because Alzheimer’s robs a person of their memories and independence, leading to a steady increase in the need for monitoring.

caring hands

Profile of a caregiver: 60% are younger than 65.

In 2015, 15.9 million family and friends provided 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Nearly 60 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high; about 40 percent suffer from depression.

A majority of caregivers report they are “somewhat” to “very” concerned about maintaining their own health since becoming a caregiver. One in five care contributors cut back on their own doctor visits because of their care responsibilities. Most people survive an average of four to six years after being diagnosed, but many can live for as long as 20 years with the disease.

Family members and friends providing care for someone (other than their children) have to squeeze in an average of more than 24 hours a week to take care of their loved one, according to AARP research. Caregiving is particularly time-intensive for those caring for a spouse or partner, which requires an average of 44 hours a week. That doesn’t leave much time for any of the other priorities you might have in your life. A good game plan can help get things under control.

Where can you find help for Alzheimer’s?

Non-profits like the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America offer good information on resources and support networks for patients and families. You can also search by zip code and/or state to find area resources.