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Cases of Alzheimer’s Growing, Report Says

A new Alzheimer's Association report says the number of people with Alzheimer's is on the rise and, while elderly people still represent the vast majority of cases, as many as 500,000 people under age 65 are living with the disease. An association member explains.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    As Americans age, the rate of Alzheimer's continues to climb. Roughly five million people in the United States suffer from the disease, representing a 10 percent spike over the last five years.

    A new Alzheimer's Association report finds the vast majority of these patients are elderly, but there are also as many as half a million people living with the disease who are under 65.

    For more on this and the latest in treatment, we turn to Stephen McConnell, vice president of advocacy and public policy for the Alzheimer's Association.

    Welcome, Mr. McConnell.

  • STEPHEN MCCONNELL, Alzheimer’s Association:

    Thank you, Gwen.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So what do we know about why these numbers are increasing?

  • STEPHEN MCCONNELL:

    The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is age. So as the population ages, we're going to see increases in the numbers of people with Alzheimer's.

    Baby boomers are coming along, approaching the age of highest risk. This is a huge part of the population. We're going to see skyrocketing numbers, as many as eight million by 2030 and 16 million by 2050.

    As you pointed out in the report, though, there's this sizeable number of people under 65, and that's been mostly unreported in the past.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Yes, why is that? Is that the boomer effect, as well, or is it just that it's always been there and we didn't count it?

  • STEPHEN MCCONNELL:

    It's mostly that we didn't count it, but it's now there in significant enough numbers that we're beginning to see it. So, you know, I think when a person at age 50 goes in to see a doctor with problems that he might think could be significant memory problems, the doctor looks for everything else. He must be depressed, or he must have marital problems or stress at work.

    And so, frequently, people under age 65 have a very hard time getting a diagnosis. So this is important to draw attention to this, so that people who do have significant problems get a diagnosis, get help. They're protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, so they could be accommodated in the workforce.

    But this is a problem that really is going to continue to grow unless we do something about it.