According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, a woman’s estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s at age 65 is 1 in 6, compared with nearly 1 in 11 for a man. As real a concern as breast cancer is to women’s health, women in their 60s are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer.
We know that women are the epicenter of Alzheimer’s disease, representing majority of both people with the disease and Alzheimer’s caregivers.
Adding to women’s Alzheimer’s burden, there are 2.5 times as many women than men providing intensive “on- duty” care 24 hours for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease. Among caregivers who feel isolated, women are much more likely than men to link isolation with feeling depressed (17 percent of women vs. 2 percent of men).
The strain of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is also felt in the workplace. Among caregivers who have been employed while they were also caregiving:
- 20 percent of women vs. 3 percent of men went from working full-time to working part-time while acting as a caregiver.
- 18 percent of women vs. 11 percent of men took a leave of absence.
- 11 percent of women vs. 5 percent of men gave up work entirely.
- 10 percent of women vs. 5 percent of men lost job benefits.
Human and Financial Toll of Alzheimer’s
There are more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, including 3.2 million women and 200,000 people under the age of 65 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, but Alzheimer’s has far reaching effects that can plague entire families. There are currently 15.5 million caregivers providing 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care in the U.S., often at the detriment of their own health. The physical and emotional impact of dementia caregiving resulted in an estimated $9.3 billion in increased healthcare costs for Alzheimer’s caregivers in 2013.
These numbers are set to soar as the baby boomers continue to enter the age of greatest risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Unless something is done to change the course of the disease, there could be as many as 16 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s in 2050, at a cost of $1.2 trillion (in current dollars) to the nation. This dramatic rise includes a 500 percent increase in combined Medicare and Medicaid spending and a 400 percent increase in out- of-pocket spending.
Lack of Understanding of the Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, yet it is still widely misunderstood and underreported. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of both men and women agree with the mistaken belief that Alzheimer’s must run in their family for them to be at risk. When looking at certain ethnic groups, these numbers were even higher. A third of Latinos (33 percent) and almost half of Asians (45 percent) agreed with that incorrect statement.
In 2010, the Alzheimer’s Association in partnership with Maria Shriver and The Shriver Report conducted a groundbreaking poll with the goal of exploring the compelling connection between Alzheimer’s disease and women. Data from that poll were published in The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s, which also included essays and reflections that gave personal perspectives to the poll’s numbers. For the first time, that report revealed not only the striking impact of the disease on individual lives, but also its especially strong effects on women — women living with the disease, as well as women who are caregivers, relatives, friends, and loved ones of those directly affected.
Realizing the impact Alzheimer’s has on women — and the impact women can have when they work together — the Alzheimer’s Association is launching a national initiative this spring highlighting the power of women in the fight against this disease.