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‘We are in the era of treatment’: New Alzheimer’s report shows numbers are increasing, but so are treatment options

There are now two FDA-approved drugs for Alzheimer’s, however neither are covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is growing and growing fast. An estimated 6.7 million Americans age 65 and older are living with the disease. 69,000 of them are Oregonians, according to the 2023 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures Report.

The report is an annual breakdown of how Alzheimer’s is impacting our state and country, offering a snapshot of how our country is faring on this front.

“That really helps us to focus and narrow our reach and who we need to be targeting and what we need to do as an association to, hopefully, find a cure,” said Lenny Steinberg, program director for the Alzheimer's Association Oregon and Southwest Washington chapter.

About one in nine people aged 65 and older (10.7%) have Alzheimer’s. Almost two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women, and older Black Americans are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older white people.

Many of the people who care for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are family member. Eighty-three percent of the help provided to older adults in the U.S. comes from family members, friends or other unpaid caregivers. Nearly half are caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

As our population continues to age, the need for more qualified care will only increase. An estimated 1.2 million additional direct care workers will be needed before 2030.

The U.S. will have to nearly triple the number of geriatricians to effectively care for the number of people projected to have Alzheimer’s in 2050, according to the report.

“Knowing that geriatric physicians are going to be needed to be able to combat this disease — we know that it is going to be the number one occupation needed in the next 10 years,” Steinberg said.

The report is part of the Alzheimer’s Association's continuing effort for advocacy and awareness. Steinberg also hopes that providing more information spurs more understanding and helps to break down stigmas.

The report found 54% of people experiencing self-perceived difficulties with thinking and memory have not consulted their health care professional.

However, many primary care providers are not starting the conversation about cognitive memory issues. The report found that nearly all primary care providers are waiting for patients or family members to make them aware of symptoms or request an assessment.

As a result, it’s important to start that conversation yourself.  

“People with Alzheimer’s can live very full lives. It’s all dependent on your attitude and what you know about it and how prepared your family and loved ones are to help and assist,” Steinberg said.

Early detection can drastically change a family’s journey through diagnoses.

“The other thing this report does is get that advocacy out there in front of a lot of people,” Steinberg said. “Now we are in the era of treatment.”

The FDA approved Alzheimer’s drugs Aduhelm in 2021 and Leqembi just this year. It’s the biggest breakthrough in nearly twenty years when it comes to treatment. But Steinberg says there’s a major problem when it comes to getting these medications to people who could benefit from them.

“While they’re FDA approved, CMS — so Medicare and Medicaid — are not approved for them. And they are the only FDA-approved drugs that are not approved by CMS,” Steinberg said.  

He and other advocates hope to get this information into the hands of lawmakers and medical professionals.  

“So, they can see that we really need to be focusing more on this area and get these medications approved and out to the masses because right now, you can only get them if you’re in a clinical trial or if you’re ready to spend a lot of money,” he said.

No matter where you are in the journey of memory loss, the Alzheimer’s Association has resources to help. That includes things like education, support groups and information to help connect you to clinical trials.

“That’s why it’s so important to get out in the community and provide resources,” Steinberg said. “Just to get out there are really let them know what’s going on in the world of Alzheimer’s — not make it seem so scary or have this fear of, ‘What if I get this?’”

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