New statistics released from the Centers for Disease Control show South Carolina had the highest Alzheimer’s Disease death rate of any state in 2015, the most year of data available. The Palmetto State jumped from a previous ranking of eighth to worst.
“This is not just a national crisis anymore. South Carolina has a crisis in its own state,” South Carolina Alzheimer’s Association spokesperson Taylor Wilson said. “South Carolina has the highest Alzheimer’s death rate in America, which means that our state now is at the top of a list that we never wanted to be at the top of.”
Wilson said roughly 89,000 people in South Carolina are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She called the trend “alarming.”
“As our population continues to age, this is going to continue to grow and if we’re already the highest on one list, how many other lists are we going to have to top before this is something we pay attention to?” she asked.
The chapter’s president Cindy Alewine said South Carolina has the highest Alzheimer’s mortality rate of any state in the country, which she said should position to the forefront of public health initiatives by state leaders. “It is more important than ever to ensure that those with the disease get an early and accurate diagnosis, and that the rest of us understand how we can reduce our own risk of developing cognitive decline,” she said.
Some of the factors that may contribute to the high death rate are the state’s aging population, a lack of access in rural communities to early diagnosis or treatment, and no infrastructure for long-term care of patients. While Wilson said it’s too early to tell if this is a health trend, “South Carolina has always been in the top 10 of states regarding Alzheimer’s death rates.”
The association is encouraging the healthcare industry and government to address Alzheimer’s as a public health issue rather than an aging issue. Wilson said deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased nationally 123 percent between 2000 and 2015, while deaths from other issues such as heart disease and stroke have decreased thanks to prevention measures and public awareness.
“What can we do in the interim while we’re searching for a cure? We can make it a public health issue to see if there’s not a way if we can start to improve the quality of life and the community education to be able to provide the best that we can with what we have right now,” she said.
In South Carolina 309,000 people provide 353 million hours of unpaid care a year to Alzheimer’s patients, if paid, that care would be worth nearly $4.44 billion, according to Wilson. “Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America,” she said. “And it’s because of the amount of care that is required for someone with this diagnosis.”
Wilson said if Medicare had to pay for the care of these patients, it would cost $573 million in 2018. Within seven years, that number is expected to nearly double, exceeding $1 billion.
Given the duration of this disease, the strain on Alzheimer’s caregivers can last several years and cause serious declines in caregiver physical, emotional and financial well-being. The difficulties associated with providing this level of care are estimated to have resulted in $11.4 billion in additional healthcare costs for Alzheimer’s and other dementia caregivers in 2017, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
One in three seniors dies of dementia. “Age is the number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s,” Wilson said. “So as our population ages we’re going to see more of a prevalence of this as more elderly move into our communities.”
“South Carolina has a crisis regardless of the reasons why and we have to do something to provide care and support,” Wilson said. “This is at our front door. This isn’t just, ‘Oh, there are five million Americans somewhere who have this disease.’ No. There are 89,000 South Carolinians who have this disease.”
More information from the Alzheimer’s Association 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures:
Prevalence, Incidence and Mortality
- An estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2018. Of those, 89,000 are South Carolina residents.
- By 2025 – just seven years from now – the estimated number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s dementia in South Carolina will be 120,000.
- Barring the development of medical breakthroughs, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s dementia may nearly triple from 5.5 million to 13.8 million by 2050.
- Two-thirds of Americans over age 65 with Alzheimer’s dementia (3.4 million) are women.
- Every 65 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s dementia. By mid-century, someone in the U.S. will develop the disease every 33 seconds.
- Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. In South Carolina, 2,453 died with Alzheimer’s in 2015, the most recent figure available.
Cost of Care
- Total national cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated at $277 billion (not including unpaid caregiving) in 2018, of which $186 billion is the cost to Medicare and Medicaid; out-of-pocket costs represent $60 billion of the total payments, while other costs total $30 billion.
- In South Carolina, the report estimated total Medicaid costs for Americans with dementia age 65 and older is $573 million for 2018. In the next seven years, that figure is expected to increase 40.2% to over $803 million.
- Nearly half of all caregivers (48 percent) who provide help to older adults do so for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
- Approximately two-thirds of caregivers are women, and one-third of dementia caregivers are daughters.
- Forty-one percent of caregivers have a household income of $50,000 or less.