A new report identifies that a shocking 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Dying with Alzheimer’s does not equate to dying from it. But even when dementia isn’t the direct cause of death, it often delivers the final blow — speeding an individual’s deterioration by interfering with their care for heart disease, cancer or other critical illnesses.

“Exacerbated aging,” is how Dr. Maria Carrillo, an association vice president, terms the Alzheimer’s effect. “It changes any health care situation for a family.”

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Only 30 percent of 70-year-olds who don’t have Alzheimer’s are expected to die before their 80th birthday. The report found that if they do have dementia, 61 percent are expected to perish. Currently, 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. Those numbers will jump to 13.8 million by 2050.

Nearly 85,000 people died from Alzheimer’s in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in a separate report Tuesday. This includes those who had Alzheimer’s listed as an underlying cause on a death certificate, possibly because the dementia led to respiratory failure. Those numbers make Alzheimer’s the sixth leading cause of death.

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The death rate rose 39 percent in the past decade while the CDC found that deaths declined among a number of the nation’s other top killers — heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Alzheimer’s is the only one of those diseases without a good treatment.

And what’s listed on a death certificate is only part of the story. Severe dementia can make it difficult for people to mobilize or properly swallow, leading to an increased risk of pneumonia, one of the most frequent causes of death among Alzheimer’s patients.

Similarly, dementia patients often forget their medications for diabetes, high blood pressure or other illnesses. Often the experience an inability to explain the symptoms they are feeling from other ailments like infections. With an increased probability of being hospitalized than other older adults, they in turn have an increased risk of death within the following year.

(Related: 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s)

“You should be getting a sense of the so-called blurred distinction between deaths among people with Alzheimer’s and deaths caused by Alzheimer’s. It’s not so clear where to draw the line,” said Jennifer Weuve of Chicago’s Rush University, who helped study that very question.

The Chicago Health and Aging Project tracked the health of more than 10,000 older adults over time. Weuve’s team used the data to estimate how many people nationally will die with Alzheimer’s this year – about 450,000, according to Tuesday’s report.

Last year, the Obama administration set a goal of finding effective Alzheimer’s treatments by 2025, increasing research funding to help. It remains unclear how the government’s automatic budget cuts will affect those plans.

Tuesday’s report calculated that health and long-term care services will total $203 billion this year, with much of that paid by Medicare and Medicaid and not including unpaid care from family and friends. That tab is predicted to reach $1.2 trillion by 2050, barring a breakthrough in research.

Read more: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_MED_ALZHEIMERS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2013-03-19-00-08-09

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