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New report reveals ‘staggering’ future cost of Alzheimer’s disease

A report released today by the University of Canberra’s National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) has predicted the future cost of Alzheimer's disease to the community to be $442 billion over the next 20 years.

The report, titled The Economic and Societal Cost of Alzheimer's Disease in Australia, 2021-2041 was commissioned by Biogen Australia and New Zealand and builds on NATSEM and Dementia Australia’s Economic Cost of Dementia in Australia 2016-2056 Report released in 2017.

Lead author Emeritus Professor Laurie Brown from NATSEM said the figure was based on an expected 73 per cent increase in people aged 50 and over with Alzheimer's – up from 153,888 in 2021 to 266,114 by 2041.

Brown said this increase will lead to an annual cost of $26.6 billion, made up of direct costs (aged care, hospital and out of hospital services) of $9.8 billion and indirect costs (informal care, lost productivity, and income support) of $16.8 billion by 2041.

“The modelling paints a significant challenge to government, health and aged care systems into the future,” Brown said.

“The numbers also provide insight into the ripple effect on families and the community as they struggle to care for people living with the disease.”

The rise in the number of people in residential care with dementia caused by Alzheimer's is expected to increase by a similar margin: up 72 per cent from 42,478 people in 2021 to 73,172 in 2041.

“This is a huge challenge for an aged care system already under pressure. It will see financial impacts of formal residential and community aged care rising by almost $3.6 billion annually and requiring a paid workforce of 18,652 in 2041 to support those living with Alzheimer’s disease in the community alone, up from 10,752 in 2021,” Brown said.

Associate Professor Michael Woodward, geriatrician and head of Aged Care Research at Austin Health, said the report also provides an opportunity to quantify the societal costs of Alzheimer's beyond the health system.

“The impact I see on carers and the community each day is often the most challenging to quantify," Woodward said.

"However, with an expected additional 80,000+ people with Alzheimer’s disease in the community by 2041 compared with today we can’t afford not to consider this impact in any future approach.”

The report also took into account the potential impact of therapies that "target the pathogenic pathway of Alzheimer’s disease to delay the onset or progression" of the disease.

Modelling suggests the burden of Alzheimer's on aged care could be reduced by $7.9 billion over the next 20 years (comprising a $7 billion saving in residential care and $880 million in community care).

"With fewer people having moderate or severe AD dementia, the cost of informal care is also reduced by $4.3 billion – giving a total savings of $12.2 billion," the report says.

While this offers some hope for the future, Woodward cautioned that disease modifying therapies are "only part of the solution".

“The findings in this report attest to the importance of developing and implementing a system and society-wide approach, in alignment with the anticipated national dementia strategy to ensure we can provide the best possible clinical outcomes and quality of life in the future," Woodward said.

"We do not have time to delay.”

Dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, is the second leading cause of death in Australia, with an estimated 487,500 people living currently with all forms of dementia in Australia.

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