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Oliver: Alzheimer’s statistics paint startling picture

Statistics can seem impersonal, just numbers on a page. Useful, of course, but far from telling the whole picture.

Sometimes they shock us with something we didn’t know or didn’t want to face. We often are afraid the numbers have been manipulated to serve someone else’s agenda. Yet, we keep an eye on them anyway to help us better understand the world around us.

However, statistics take on a completely different perspective when one finds oneself included in the numbers – when they serve to describe the circumstances in which one finds oneself.

So it was for me and my family with the release of the “2017 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures” report, which was released last week by the Alzheimer’s Association. 

In 2017 in the U.S., an estimated 5.5 million people are affected by Alzheimer’s dementia. Of those, 5.3 million are age 65 and older, and about 200,000 are younger than 65.

My husband, who is in his late 50s, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia almost two years ago. My mother, who has vascular dementia and lives with us, is 85.

Not surprisingly, or at least not to us, the number of those affected by Alzheimer’s is on the rise. According to the report, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s dementia may nearly triple from 5.3 million to 13.8 million by 2050, barring any development of medical breakthroughs.

Worst of all, Alzheimer’s remains the only disease in the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. It’s now the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the fifth-leading cause among those 65 and older, according to the report.

Shocking, right? Here’s another one: Every 66 seconds, someone in the U.S. will develop Alzheimer’s dementia.

All of this takes a toll on the U.S. economy. According to the report, the cost nationally for caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated at $259 billion, of which $175 billion is the cost to Medicare and Medicaid. And that did not include the cost of unpaid caregiving, something about which I know firsthand. 

In 2016, caregivers like me provided an estimated 18.2 billion hours of unpaid care, which equates to a value of $230.1 billion, according to the report. With the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s on the rise, that number will only go up.

Statistically speaking, those caregivers tend to be women like me. We make up two-thirds of Alzheimer’s caregivers. The report found that of all dementia caregivers who provided care for more than 40 hours a week, 69 percent were women.

Caregiving also takes a physical, emotional and financial toll on the caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. The strain and anxiety are real.

The complete report can be found on the Alzheimer’s Association website at

If someone would have said to me five years ago that I would be caring for a mother and a husband with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, I would have winced and probably hoped beyond hope that it wasn’t true. Yet here I am.

Could it happen to you? Sadly, it could. I am far from alone.

And our numbers are growing.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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