The Alzheimer’s Association said its new analysis and surveys “should sound an alarm regarding the future of dementia care in America.”
- By 2050, the number of Americans over age 65 with Alzheimer’s is expected to rise from 5.8 to 13.8 million.
- A new report from the Alzheimer’s Association highlights how the already-stressed U.S. healthcare system is not prepared to meet this surge.
- There’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, which is a degenerative and potentially deadly form of dementia.
A new report from the Alzheimer’s Association forecasts a looming health-care problem: The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to double by 2050, and unless things change, there will be a severe shortage of health-care professionals able to care for these dementia patients.
There are two key factors driving the problem: an aging U.S. population and a lack of health-care professionals trained to care for Alzheimer’s patients. There are currently about 5.8 million Americans ages 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is about 10 percent of that age cohort. By 2050, that number is expected to hit 13.8 million. This surge poses a problem, given that the U.S. health-care system already struggles to treat people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
“According to the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis, there was already a shortage of geriatricians in 2013, and although a modest increase in supply was projected by 2025, it was not expected to meet demand,” the report states. “As a nation, we need to triple the number of geriatricians who were practicing in 2019 to have enough geriatricians to care for those 65 and older who are projected to have Alzheimer’s dementia in 2050.”
The front lines of diagnosing & treating Alzheimer’s
A broad array of practitioners help to treat Alzheimer’s, including physicians, nurses, neuropsychologists and allied health care professionals such as occupational and physical therapists and home health aides, the report notes. Primary care physicians are generally considered to be on the “front lines” of treating and diagnosing the disease. But over-relying on primary care physicians comes with costs.
- The vast majority of older Americans diagnosed with dementia never see a dementia care specialist and are overwhelmingly diagnosed and cared for by non-specialists.
- 85% of people first diagnosed with dementia were diagnosed by a non-dementia specialist physician, usually a primary care physician.
- More than half of PCPs say there are not enough specialists to receive patient referrals.
What’s especially alarming is that, even though primary care physicians are on the front lines of diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s, some aren’t comfortable with doing so. The survey found that 39 percent of primary care physicians reported being “never or only sometimes being comfortable personally making a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementias.” That’s a problem, considering Alzheimer’s treatments are more beneficial if the disease is diagnosed early.