Georgia’s death toll from Alzheimer’s disease has increased by 201 percent since the year 2000, and now exceeds 3,700 people annually.
That jump was included in new statistics on the disease released Tuesday by the Alzheimer’s Association at a state Capitol news conference.
An estimated 140,000 Georgians are living with Alzheimer’s, and the number is expected to rise to 190,000 by 2025.
It’s the sixth-leading cause of death in Georgia, said Alzheimer’s Association officials. The 3,714 Georgia deaths reported Tuesday occurred in 2015, the latest year for which full statistics are available.
Mortality from Alzheimer’s has increased nationally as well, but the rate of increase is 123 percent, notably lower than in Georgia.
“Alzheimer’s and related dementias are a crisis,’’ Dr. Patrick O’Neal, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said at the news conference. “The numbers are staggering.”
Members of the baby boom generation (born 1946-1964) are adding to the increases, said state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford. “Dementia affects so many state agencies.”
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease and the most common cause of dementia. Symptoms of dementia include difficulties with memory, language, problem-solving and other cognitive skills that affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.
The increase in the death rate can be linked to several factors, the Alzheimer’s Association says. The growing proportion of older adults in the country is not the only explanation for the increase in Alzheimer’s death rates, the group’s report says. Other possible reasons include fewer deaths from other common causes in old age, such as heart disease and stroke; increased diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, especially at earlier stages; and increased reporting of Alzheimer’s as a cause of death by physicians and others who fill out death certificates.
And it’s a costly disease.
Nationally, total payments to care for individuals living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias surpass $275 billion annually. In Georgia, Medicaid costs of caring for people with Alzheimer’s exceed $1 billion a year. More than 500,000 Georgians serve as caregivers for people with the disease.
There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s. But officials at the news conference pointed to initiatives that they say raise hopes for better diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
This year, five “memory assessment centers’’ will open in Georgia, located in Augusta, Atlanta, Macon, Columbus and Albany. “We’ll have more early, accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s,’’ said Kathy Simpson, public policy and advocacy director for the Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Nationally, a bill pending in Congress would create an Alzheimer’s public health infrastructure focusing on early detection and diagnosis, reducing risk and preventing avoidable hospitalizations. The BOLD Act would also establish Alzheimer’s centers of excellence, provide cooperative agreements to public health departments and increase data collection, analysis and timely reporting.
Linda Davidson, executive director of the Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, added, “We want to provide more services in Georgia and grow our volunteer force.’’
The group also calls for more federal funding for research related to the disease.
Kathy Floyd of the Georgia Council on Aging praised the creation of the assessment centers.
“The earlier you’re diagnosed, the more you can be helped,” said Floyd, adding that caregivers can benefit a lot by knowing how to deal with the disease.
“We have to be prepared in Georgia to help these families’’ with services, Floyd said.
Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News