The healthcare tsunami that is looming over the U.S. became a front-page news story on Friday when national media reported that mortalities from Alzheimer’s have risen 55% since 1999. And more patients are dying at home rather than in hospitals, which reflects a greater burden being made on caregivers.
CNN, the New York Times, Scientific American and scores of other news outlets cited a new report by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Georgia State University, which released these figures:
- 93,541 Americans died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2014, an increase of 55% compared to 1999;
- In that same period, the percentage of Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. who died in a nursing-home or hospital setting dropped by more than 50%: from nearly 15% in 1999 to less than 7% in 2014;
- At-home deaths increased from nearly 14% in 1999 to about 25% in 2014.
- By 2050, Alzheimer’s is expected to affect 13.8 million U.S. adults, up from 5.5 million in 2017. Translation: Deaths from the disease are going to rise 150%.
The media also broadcast the report’s conclusions that these multiple trends are hitting caregivers with hurricane-like force. Notes Scientific America: “The sharp increase in Alzheimer’s deaths coupled with the rising number of people with Alzheimer’s dying at home have likely added to the burden on family members and others struggling to care for their stricken family members.”
The CDC report stresses the urgency of supporting caregivers by giving them respite care and assistance from case managers. That theme was elaborated on by many media outlets. CBS News, for instance, highlighted the incredible stresses that caregivers have to cope with, and spoke up for federal funding being channeled to caregivers, as well as to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s.
The New York Times’s coverage emphasized a “surprising” fact in the statistics: “a shift in where people are dying” [emphasis mine]. One in four patients with Alzheimer’s now die at home, but experts aren’t sure why more patients/families are choosing at-home, rather than nursing-home or hospital care.
Some experts speculate that patients might prefer to stay in familiar surroundings.
My take on that statistic? Dementia-care facilities can be extremely expensive, and lots of people simply can’t afford them; nor do they want want to whittle their loved one’s assets down to $2,000 in order to qualify for Medicaid (which does cover nursing-home care). I don’t see that perspective represented in the news articles, though.
All in all, it’s encouraging that so many news outlets gave prominent coverage to the news in the CDC report. I hope it signals a shift in coverage of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and I hope that it will be followed by long-term, substantive reporting. This truly is a crisis bearing down on America: millions of baby boomers entering old age, prepared to live longer in a world that still cannot prevent or cure this disease, and which won’t advocate federal funds for longterm care. A perfect storm, in other words.
Time to figure out a real strategy for coping with Alzheimer’s.