A recent study by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health suggests the number of Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairments could more than double by 2060. Currently, an estimated 6 million Americans suffer from the disease and if the study holds to be true, that number could increase to a staggering 15 million over the next few decades.
Published in The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, the study examined some of the largest reviews on the rates and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and applied a computer model that took into account the aging U.S. population. Of the 15 million Americans expected to suffer from cognitive impairments, 5.7 million are expected to have a mild condition while the remainder will likely be diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer’s, with 4 million requiring nursing home care.
In a statement to the UCLA Newsroom, the author of the study Ron Brookmeyer said, “There are about 47 million people in the U.S. today who have some evidence of preclinical Alzheimer’s, which means they have either a build-up of protein fragments called beta-amyloid or neurodegeneration of the brain but don’t yet have symptoms.”
It is important to note these are only projections for the coming decades based on computer models applied to scientific surveys. The actual numbers could fluctuate due to variables like the demographics examined in the studies and other types of dementia that individuals could develop over the course of their lifetimes.
“Many of them will not progress to Alzheimer’s dementia in their lifetimes,” Brookmeyer went on to say. We need to have improved methods to identify which persons will progress to clinical symptoms, and develop interventions for them that could slow the progression of the disease, if not stop it all together.”
Whatever the future holds for millions of aging Americans, it remains crucial for families to have serious discussions about mental health when talking about estate planning. When individuals develop a cognitive impairment, they cannot make important financial and health decisions for themselves and seizing this decision making power for a loved one can be a long and difficult process through the courts. A power of attorney to allow a family member or trusted person to make important decisions should be a major consideration and also allow the guardian to name another individual to take his or her place in case the caregiver cannot fulfill his or her duties.