BATON ROUGE – The number of commercially insured Americans age 30 to 64 diagnosed with early-onset dementia or Alzheimer’s disease increased by 200% from 2013 to 2017. Louisiana ranked 42nd worst out of the 50 states with its combined diagnosis rate of 10.1 per 10,000 commercially insured adults in the four-year study period (2013–2017). Louisiana’s four-year rate was well above the national figure, 8.7.
These findings come from a new Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) report, “Early-Onset Dementia and Alzheimer's Rates Grow for Younger Americans,” part of BCBSA’s The Health of America Report® series.
For early-onset Alzheimer’s disease only, Louisiana’s rate of 2.7 per 10,000 members in the four-year period is also one of the nation’s worst and slightly higher than the national rate of 2.2. Diagnosis rates of the two conditions are higher in the South and East, according to the report.
“We are seeing an increase in the diagnosis of early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease over the past four years, especially in the South,” said Dr. Emily Vincent, medical director at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. “It is important that the medical community continues efforts in research for disease prevention and awareness of symptoms to aid in diagnosis.”
Additional findings from the study include:
The report comes at a time when the Alzheimer’s Association, the oldest advocacy group for people affected by the disease, is sending a message of optimism and progress. The first new drug for Alzheimer’s in 15 years could be approved this year, and federal funding for Alzheimer’s and dementia research has skyrocketed.
Yet the BCBSA report found that the average age of a person living with either form of dementia is 49. The report indicates an increase in Alzheimer’s diagnoses among younger generations, which can lead to even greater economic consequences and mental stress for those that provide them care. Nearly 16 million family members and friends provided more than 18 billion hours of unpaid care to persons with Alzheimer’s disease in America, costing an estimated $221 billion. Health Consequences in Alzheimer’s Caregivers
These added caregiving responsibilities are felt particularly by women, who make up 63% of this caregiving subset. The Impact of Alzheimer’s Disease on Caregivers The added stress and time commitment these caregivers incur can also lead to depression, social isolation and financial stress. Caregiver Burden, A Clinical Review
“This is a troubling health trend that has an effect on the entire family and the caregivers of individuals diagnosed with these conditions,” said Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana’s Vincent. “There must be continued efforts to provide the medical and social support needed by individuals with this diagnosis and those who care for them.”
The study took a deeper look into early-onset Alzheimer’s disease specifically and found that more than 37,000 commercially insured Americans between the ages of 30 and 64 were diagnosed with the condition in 2017—a 131% jump in diagnoses since 2013.
“The increase in early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s diagnoses among a generation that typically wouldn’t expect to encounter these conditions for several decades is concerning, especially since there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Vincent Nelson, BCBSA vice president, Medical Affairs.
The report noted that several factors could be driving an increase in prevalence. It could be heightened awareness of symptoms amongst providers, better usage of diagnosis codes or simply an increase of those who are afflicted with the condition. However, it is important to note that the diagnosis increase in the 30-44 age group is on a small base size, which means small numerical increases in rate drive substantial percentage changes. Also, the results use medical claims data, which cannot determine the causes of diagnosed conditions. Nor can medical claims determine local practice patterns or the amount of health practitioners in a particular geographic area.
However, the report’s authors hope these findings will shed light on the issue and inform medical professionals and policymakers in their efforts to help people get well.
Given the need to continue focusing on the symptoms and diagnosis of these conditions, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana provides programs and services, or works with organizations that provide programs and services, to support its members living with early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as well as their families and caregivers.
Some of these offerings include:
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation also supports seniors and caregivers with grants to programs like One Up Fun Fitness For All, which has created and piloted a real-life based approach to fall prevention for senior adults.
The “Early-Onset Dementia and Alzheimer's Rates Grow for Younger Americans” report is based on data from BCBS Axis, a database of medical claims from more 48 million commercially insured members of Blue Cross Blue Shield companies, from 2013 to 2017. This is the 29th study of the Blue Cross Blue Shield The Health of America Report® series. For more information, visit https://www.bcbs.com/the-health-of-america.
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is committed to our mission to improve the health and lives of Louisianians. Founded in New Orleans in 1934, we are a tax-paying nonprofit health insurer with offices in every major region to serve our customers. We were recognized in 2019 as an honoree of The Civic 50, named by Points of Light as one of the 50 most community-minded companies in the United States.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. We are a private mutual company, owned by our policyholders, with an independent Louisiana Board of Directors and no shareholders. We invite all Louisianians to visit our website at www.bcbsla.com or talk to us on social media.
About Blue Cross Blue Shield Association
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a national federation of 36 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide health care coverage for one in three Americans. BCBSA provides health care insights through The Health of America Report® series and the national BCBS Health Index. For more information on BCBSA and its member companies, please visit bcbs.com. We also encourage you to connect with us on Facebook, check out our videoson YouTube, follow us on Twitter and check out our blog.