Vidyya Medical News Service
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Volume 5 Issue 231 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 19-Aug-2003 Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 20-Aug-2003
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Study suggests dramatically rising numbers of people with Alzheimer’s disease

Scientists project that some 13.2 million older Americans will have Alzheimer's disease (AD) by 2050 unless new ways are found to prevent or treat the disease. According to these latest estimates of the current and future prevalence of AD, reported by Denis A. Evans, M.D., and colleagues of Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, the numbers of older people with AD -- now at 4.5 million – will grow dramatically as the population ages. The most notable increases will be among people age 85 and older, when by mid-century 8 million people in that age group may have the disease.

The projections appear in the August 2003 issue of the Archives of Neurology. "These updated estimates from Evans and his group underscore the challenge that we face in the fight against AD," says Marcelle Morrison-Bogorad, Ph.D., NIA Associate Director for the Neuroscience and Neuropsychology of Aging Program, which funded the research. "But I am also optimistic that current research will lead to strategies for intervention early in the disease so that we can keep these projections from becoming a reality."

The estimates were derived from a study of the incidence (number of new cases of AD per year) over 4 years among 3,913 people 65 and older in Chicago. The researchers then calculated the national prevalence of AD (the number of people at any particular time who have the disease) using population projections from the Census and death rates from the National Center for Health Statistics. Their estimates, based on Census Bureau "middle series" population projections, are:

Number of People with AD, by Age Group (in millions)

Year Age 65-74 Age 75-84 Age 85+ Total
2000 0.3 2.4 1.8 4.5
2010 0.3 2.4 2.4 5.1
2020 0.3 2.6 2.8 5.7
2030 0.5 3.8 3.5 7.7
2040 0.4 5.0 5.6 11.0
2050 0.4 4.8 8.0 13.2

In 2000, 7 percent of those with AD were age 65-74, 53 percent age 75-84, and 40 percent age 85 and older. By 2050, it is projected that 60 percent of people with AD will be 85 and older.

In 2000, among people age 65-74, 17 percent of the cases of AD were classified as severe, compared with 20 percent severe among people 75-84 and 28 percent severe at age 85 or older.

"Declines in death rates after age 65 mean that more people will survive to the oldest ages, where risk of AD is greatest," notes Evans. "These numbers validate the current thinking that we must do what we can as early as possible in the disease process, prior to advanced age, if we are to head off these very high rates of AD in the future."

Over a decade ago, Evans and colleagues estimated the national prevalence of AD, based on an East Boston, MA, population study. The new estimates are similar to those earlier findings.

The updated findings were reported by Evans, Liesi E. Hebert, Julia L. Bienias, and David A. Bennett of Rush and by Paul A. Scherr of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The NIA, along with funding this study, also supports the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center. The Alzheimer's Association also provided funding for the prevalence study.

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