The Cost of Dementia - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Cost of Dementia

The Cost of Dementia

By Sean Braswell

The cost of dementia
SourceMark Horn/Gallery Stock


Because planned obsolescence is not just a principle of industrial design.

By Sean Braswell

What is the price of longevity?

For most of history, dementia (from the Latin for “without mind”) was not something that most humans had to worry about. The condition – which includes not just Alzheimer’s but any significant decline in cognitive ability other than what might be expected from normal aging or Ozzy Osbourne – was almost unknown before lifespans began routinely to exceed 80 years.

9.1 million

The number of Americans age 70 and older estimated to suffer from dementia in 2040 (up 240 percent from 2010)

$445 billion

The approximate cost for dementia care in the U.S. in 2040 (up 240 percent from 2010)

Source: New England Journal of Medicine

But this disease of longevity may turn into a long-running nightmare. According to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, we are just beginning to experience the tremendous cost of dementia. In the U.S. alone, the cost and number of people afflicted with dementia is expected to more than double within 30 years. Worldwide, a new case arises every four seconds, and the number of sufferers is expected to jump from 35 million to 115 million by 2050.


As baby boomers retire and live longer, our current health systems simply will not be able to cope with the explosion in dementia, which could generate an economic and fiscal burden far greater than that of cancer or heart disease. By 2010, nursing home care and other direct health-care expenses for dementia already totaled $109 billion in the U.S. — compared to $102 billion for heart disease and $77 billon for cancer.

Ryuta Kawashima

Source Getty

The good news is that substantial progress has been made in identifying early warning signs of dementia, and nearly 100 disease-modifying therapies are the subject of ongoing clinical trials. The most curious may be Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima’s specially designed and apparently effective video games based on learning therapies. Just one or two successful treatments could potentially alter the numbers.

So if ever there was a time to use our heads to prevent an epidemic failure of same, that time is now. 

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