Journal Record Staff Reporter
Alzheimer's disease causes great emotional cost to its victims
and their families, but the dollar amount is equally staggering
and it's growing steadily.
Dr. Roger A. Brumback, who does research on Alzheimer's
disease at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center,
said some 4.5 million Americans currently suffer from the
disease. That's expected to grow to 6 million by 2000 and to a
whopping 10 million people in 2030, he said.
Brumback, who is director of the Diagnostic Center for
Alzheimer's Disease and Neuropathology Laboratory, estimated
20,000 victims of the disease live in Oklahoma. The number will
sharply increase during the next 30 to 40 years, he said.
Now for the staggering part: each victim of Alzheimer's
disease requires an expenditure of at least $25,000 per year for
health care, including specialized medical care, nursing homes
and social services. Brumback said annual expenses for the
disease are more than $100 billion in the United States and about
$500 million in Oklahoma.
"Alzheimer's disease victims live an average of seven years
after the onset of the disease," he said. Multiplied by $25,000,
that's a minimum health care cost of $175,000.
Put another way, a hypothetical person on a minimum wage of
$10,000 per year would be spending 17 years' worth of pay to
cover expenses caused by the dreaded disease, Brumback said. And
health insurance doesn't cover Alzheimer's.
"For most situations, you deplete every dollar a person has
until he goes on welfare, goes on Medicaid, and Medicaid doesn't
pay nursing homes enough for care, so people drift to substandard
nursing homes and die more quickly," he said.
Many people either have relatives or acquaintances who have
been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, so at least the name's
familiar. Precisely what happens is, "the nerve cells in the
brain are deteriorating and dying. You start losing them, and
soon you don't have the number you need to think," Brumback said.
"We don't know why the nerve cells are dying, and that's the
Research physicians are seeking to discover what's killing the
nerve cells and how to prevent it from happening.
"Despite everything that's written in the papers, we really
don't understand it," he said. "Alzheimer's disease receives a
disproportionately small amount of research dollars compared to
other current priorities, and this is one of the major diseases
in this country at this time."
Because Alzheimer's disease touches so many people, it is a
popular project for research scientists, Brumback said. It has
resulted in some findings being unduly hyped in publications in
the hope of garnering research grants, he said. "Really, we
haven't achieved that much over the past few years."
In the mid-19th century, it was politically popular to view
people over 65 as "senile," which could be the reason for that
age being a benchmark retirement age, Brumback said. But not all
people above that age are truly demented _ in fact, a great many
A scientist named Alzheimer, for whom the disease is named,
studied a 50-year-old woman who experienced a progressive loss of
her intellectual functions over three years. He examined her
brain tissue under a microscope, and found plaques and tangles,
which are now known to be characteristics of the disease,
"She was senile before her time. They thought it was premature
aging," he said. "Subsequently, people called it `Alzheimer's
So, up to the 1970s, Alzheimer's was considered to be a rare
form of premature aging of the brain, and everybody was
considered to be senile when they reached age 65, Brumback said. …