Alzheimer's disease report focuses on long-term care challenge

The mounting problem of caring for an aging population isn't unique to the U.S., according to a new report from the coalition Alzheimer's Disease International.

Around the world, about 101 million people ages 60 and older need special care today. By 2050, that number will increase to 277 million, report author and King's College London psychiatrist Dr. Martin Prince and collaborators wrote, noting that most long-term care for the elderly is targeted at patients who suffer from dementia -- and that those patients present a particularly difficult challenge for the care system.

"People with dementia have special needs.  Compared with other long-term care users they need more personal care, more hours of care, and more supervision, all of which is associated with greater strain on caregivers and higher costs," Prince said in a statement issued by the Alzheimer's organization.

According to the publication, 13% of people 60 and older globally are dependent on caregivers, and the costs are steep: 2010 estimates suggest that the annual societal costs worldwide were $604 billion, or 1% of the aggregated worldwide Gross Domestic Product. 

"If dementia care were a country," the report suggested, "it would rank between Turkey and Indonesia and be the world's 18th largest economy."

In all, 80% of worldwide costs are racked up in high-income countries.  That's because patients in less-developed countries are more likely to receive informal care from family, and because cost in lost wages to those caregivers is lower than it would be for informal caregivers in wealthier nations.

The report argued that "'living well with dementia' is an attainable goal, and that maintaining or enhancing quality of life is the ultimate objective." It called for improved means of measuring and monitoring the quality of care dementia patients receive (at home or in care facilities), for giving patients and their caregivers the autonomy to choose how their care will be structured, for better coordination of systems to support dementia patients, and for programs to reward, support and develop the dementia care workforce.

"Undervaluing of caregivers impacts negatively on the quality of care," the team wrote.

The report, which was also supported by the London-based healthcare company Bupa, also recommended that governments pay more attention to managing long-term care availability and oversight. The authors argued that the impact of population aging on long-term care needs was predictable, because the people who will be elderly in the middle years of the 21st century have already been born.

"Governments and the societies that they represent have no excuse if they find themselves inadequately prepared," they wrote.

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