Dementia is not only one of the most challenging diseases to treat, but it's also one of the most expensive. Researchers at RAND Corp. and the University of Michigan found that in 2010 the cost of caring for people with dementia was between $159 billion and $215 billion. Those numbers are expected to skyrocket as baby boomers grow older. In fact, the researchers predict that costs will nearly double by 2040 unless new ways of treating the disease are developed.

"These findings reveal that the enormous emotional and physical demands of caring for people with dementia are accompanied by the similarly imposing financial burdens of dementia care," Richard J. Hodes, M.D., director of the NIH's National Institute on Aging, which funded the analysis, said in a statement. "The national costs further compel us to do all we can to find effective treatments for Alzheimer's disease and related dementia as soon as possible."

The study, published in the April 4 New England Journal of Medicine, points out that capturing the true costs of dementia care is, to put it mildly, a challenge. People with dementia are likely to have other chronic conditions. Adjusting for those ailments is important, the researchers note. Also, family members and others often provide unpaid, but very important care.

Here are some of the key findings, all for 2010:

  • $109 billion — direct costs of care purchased in the health care market, exceeding spending for heart disease ($102 billion) and cancer ($77 billion)
  • $13,900 — annual dementia patient's cost for care in a nursing home or other institution
  • $5,700 — annual per patient cost for home health aides
  • Between $41,689 and $52,362 — total annual per person costs

"Unless effective interventions are found to treat Alzheimer's, formal long-term dementia care costs will escalate for the baby boom generation, as they have fewer children available to provide unpaid, informal care," stated Richard M. Suzman, director of NIA's division of social and behavioral research.