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Some 282,000 Pennsylvanians have Alzheimer's disease according to new report

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Alzheimer's Association report finds that 11.5% of Pennsylvanians who are 65-plus have Alzheimer’s disease. This is higher than the national rate of 10.9%

More than 282,000 Pennsylvanians who are 65 or older have Alzheimer's disease, according to a new report compiled by the Alzheimer's Association. That means 11.5% of Pennsylvanians who are 65-plus have Alzheimer’s, putting the state higher than the national rate of 10.9%.

Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes dementia — its hallmarks include memory loss, behavioral changes and impaired judgment. While researchers find that some people are genetically predisposed to developing the disease, the report notes that poor sleep quality, air pollution and cardiovascular issues are also risk factors.

An estimated 6.9 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. Due to the aging baby boomer population, that number is projected to reach 12.7 million by 2050. The implications of these demographic shifts are immense for the health care infrastructure and society writ large.

The report projects that in order to keep up with demand, the number of geriatricians practicing in Pennsylvania must more than double by 2025. And the number of personal and home care aides must grow by 22% between 2020 and 2030 to care for people with Alzheimer's and related dementias.

There’s a perception that people with Alzheimer’s mostly live in nursing homes where they’re cared for by professional aides. In reality, most people live at home with unpaid caregivers, said Clay Jacobs, the executive director for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Greater Pennsylvania Chapter.

The report finds that two out of every three of these unpaid caregivers are women. The monetary value of their labor is enormous: Last year in Pennsylvania it amounted to $13.6 billion.

The good news is the research to further the understanding of Alzheimers has made leaps in the past few years. Still, there is no cure for the disease.

Some people don’t want to plan for the possibility of such a scary diagnosis, or even know if they’re experiencing cognitive decline. But the sooner a person finds out about Alzheimer's, the more time they have to plan for the care they’ll inevitably need.

Other benefits of an early diagnosis include having more time to make financial and health decisions, enrolling in research studies and still being healthy enough to cross big-ticket items off a bucket list.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.