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New prevalence study suggests dramatically rising numbers of people with Alzheimer's disease

August 18, 2003

NIA Press Office | 301-496-1752 | nianews3@mail.nih.gov

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.

"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.

AD is an irreversible disorder of the brain, robbing those who have it of memory, and eventually, overall mental and physical function, leading to death. For more information on such research, as well as on biological, epidemiological, clinical, and social and behavioral research on AD, two new publications are available from the NIA: 2001-2002 Alzheimer's Disease Progress Report and Alzheimer's Disease: Unraveling the Mystery, which includes a CD-ROM animation of what happens to the brain in AD. These publications may be viewed at NIA's AD-dedicated Web site www.alzheimers.org, the Institute's Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center or ordered free by calling ADEAR at 1-800-438-4380.

For general information about aging and health, including materials on exercise specifically aimed at people 50 and older, visit the NIA at www.nia.nih.gov or ask for a publications list by calling 1-800-222-2225.

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