The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to the disease, will more than double to 15 million by 2060, according to a new UCLA Fielding School of Public Health study.
With funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), UCLA researchers looked at the largest studies made on rates of Alzheimer’s progression and compiled that information in a computer model that was specifically built to analyze the aging of the United States population. The model projected the numbers of people in preclinical and clinical disease states.
After assessing these results, the researchers found that about 5.7 million Americans will have mild cognitive impairment (an intermediate clinical stage that does not yet meet the criteria for dementia) by 2060 and another 9.3 million will have dementia due to Alzheimer’s. In this group, about 4 million will need intensive care service, similar to that provided by nursing homes.
Today, about 6.08 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment, according to the study.
The study, “Forecasting the prevalence of preclinical and clinical Alzheimer’s disease in the United States,” was published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
About 2.4 million Americans are living with mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s today, Ron Brookmeyer, lead author of the study, said in a press release. However, about 47 million Americans “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,” Brookmeyer added.
“Many of them will not progress to Alzheimer’s dementia in their lifetimes,” he said. “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 altogether.”
This is the first study of its kind to estimate the numbers of Americans with preclinical Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment. It is also the first forecast attempting to predict the number of people with biomarkers or other evidence of possible preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, but who do not have impairment or Alzheimer’s dementia.
“Estimates by disease state and severity are important because the resources needed to care for patients vary so much over the course of the illness,” Brookmeyer said.
But precisely because these are only estimates, the authors stress that the numbers are not definitive. In addition, participants in the studies analyzed may not represent all demographics.
Researchers advise that if we cannot develop measures to slow the progression of the disease in people who are already showing early signs of dementia, these estimates could very well become a reality.