The Growing Burden of Alzheimer’s Disease

The world’s population is aging at unprecedented rate. Starting last year 100,000 baby boomers each day are reaching age 65. Today over 5 million people are living with the Alzheimer’s disease.


It is a dispatch call to the Walmart parking lot.  An elderly woman, wearing only a nightgown, is wandering in front of the store, she appears confused and agitated.  On the other end of town officers are responding to a missing at risk call; a 90 year old male has wandered from his care center, last direction of travel is unknown.  Calls related to the elderly are becoming much more familiar and officers can expect an exponential increase in these calls as our population continues to age.  Most typically, police contact with the demented individual include:

•             wandering, getting lost

•             auto accidents

•             indecent exposure

•             homicide, suicide, domestic violence

•             suspicion of DUI, suspicion of intoxication

•             abuse, neglect

•             trespassing

•             shoplifting, petty theft

Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia is defined as a significant loss of intellectual abilities such as memory capacity, severe enough to interfere with social or occupational functioning.    Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all cases. Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that breaks down the connections between nerve cells in the brain and is not a normal part of aging.   Symptoms usually develop slowly and progressively get worse.   In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but in the late-stage individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s can cause mood disturbances, anxiety, paranoia, agitation, delusions, and hallucinations. Eventually, people with the disease are no longer able to care for themselves. Alzheimer's disease is fatal; it is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.  Alzheimer’s is the only cause of death (among the top 10) in America without a way to prevent, cure, or even slow its progression. 

The world’s population is aging at unprecedented rate.  Starting last year 100,000 baby boomers each day are reaching age 65. Today over 5 million people are living with the Alzheimer’s disease.   It is projected that by 2050, 16 million will have Alzheimer’s; it will be the leading cause of adult death in the country.

The Burden of Alzheimer’s

Of Americans aged 65 and over, 1 in 8 has Alzheimer’s;  nearly half of people aged 85 and older have the disease.  The average life expectancy for someone with Alzheimer's is 8-10 years after the onset of symptoms. However, individuals with Alzheimer's have been known to live up to 20 years after the first signs emerge.

It was estimated last year that the cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s in the U.S. has totaled $183 billion. This is an $11 billion increase over 2010; a rate of increase more than four times inflation. By 2050 it is projected that costs will total $1.1 trillion.  This translates into a major crisis in the country’s financial and correctional systems. 

The elderly constitute the fastest-growing sector of the inmate population.  In 2010 the elderly (55 and older) represented 8% of the prison population.  That was a 6 fold increase over the past fifteen years. The main reason for this trend is that prisoners are getting the long sentences including life without parole.  Additionally, there has been an increase in the number of older offenders entering the system.

States are obligated to treat medically and mentally ill inmates related to the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The treatments the elderly population require are far more costly than those of younger inmates.  For example, in Georgia, the cost of taking care of an elderly inmate is 9 times higher than a younger inmate.   Additionally, prisons were not designed to be geriatric facilities.  Cells need to facilitate an elderly person’s physical and mental handicaps.  States are being forced to house older and demented prisoners in special units.  

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