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Week of April 15, 2013

Research

Study finds dementia care costs among highest of all diseases

The costs of caring for people with dementia in the U.S. are comparable to — if not greater than — those for heart disease and cancer, according to new estimates by researchers at the U-M Health System and nonprofit RAND Corp.

Annual health care costs tied to dementia, including both formal and unpaid care, reach $159 billion to $215 billion — rivaling the most costly major diseases, according to the findings that appear in The New England Journal of Medicine.

“Our findings show why dementia is sometimes described as a ‘slow-motion disaster’ for patients and families,” says co-author Dr. Kenneth Langa, professor of internal medicine, research investigator at the Center for Clinical Management Research in the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, and member of the Institute for Social Research, Institute of Gerontology and Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

“The majority of the costs associated with dementia — about 80 percent in our study — are due to the long-term daily care and supervision provided by families and nursing homes, often for many years. Ignoring these long-term care costs that build up steadily day-after-day leads to a huge undercounting of the true burden that dementia imposes on our society.”

Dementia is a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior.

Researchers found that the direct costs of dementia care, which includes formal costs for nursing homes, Medicare, and out-of-pocket expenses, were estimated at $109 billion in 2010. That compares to direct health expenses of $102 billion for heart disease and $77 billion for cancer in the same year.

Adding informal, unpaid care to the equation as much as doubled the estimated total national costs for dementia care up to nearly $215 billion. Full costs per case of dementia in 2010 were $41,000 to $56,000.

Rates of dementia increase sharply with age, and national health expenditures for dementia are likely to double by 2040 as the number of older adults swells in the coming decades, authors say.

“We have measured the financial costs of dementia, and found them to be comparable to or larger than other costly diseases,” says Michael Hurd, lead author of the study and director of the RAND Center for the Study of Aging.

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STAFF SPOTLIGHT

Karen Simpson, student financial assistant, Student Financial Services, on the increase in technology in her 35 years at U-M: “When I first came here we were typing student checks on typewriters. Now, everything is very modernized, very streamlined.”

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