Alzheimer's Disease Costs Disproportionately Affect Women

Women bear greater costs related to Alzheimer's disease (AD) compared with men for 2 reasons: they are at greater risk of developing the AD and cost Medicare and Medicaid more, and they are more likely to provide informal, unpaid care to family members with AD.

Not only are women at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other forms of dementia, but they are more likely to serve as caregivers for patients with AD. A new study published in Women’s Health Issues has determined AD has a much greater economic burden on women, who bear greater costs related to the informal care they deliver.

There are 2 ways AD costs have a greater burden on women: female patients with AD cost Medicare and Medicaid more in general, and women provide informal, unpaid care to family members with AD.

“As Baby Boomers age, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia will place a greater strain on our healthcare system and on families,” Chloe E. Bird, PhD, editor-in-chief of Women’s Health Issues, said in a statement. “This study demonstrates the importance of policies to address the needs not only of patients but of caregivers, the majority of whom are women.”

The study, from Emory University researchers, aimed to quantify the health and economic burdens of AD by gender. They reported that not only do females represent 60% to 70% of the informal care givers for AD patients, but often take the most physically and mentally challenging roles in caregiving—such as bathing, feeding, toileting—whereas men usually take the less stressful roles of reading, transportation, and spiritual support.

Overall, the study found that women bear 6 times the cost of men.

“Public policy interventions that aim at curing or slowing the progress of AD, as well as those meeting the special home health care or long-term care need of the AD patients, will greatly benefit the welfare and economic status of women,” Zhou Yang, MD, PhD, said.

Over their lifetime, female AD patients cost Medicare and Medicaid more than male patients: females cost Medicare 16% more than males ($15,531 vs $13,351) and cost Medicaid 70% more ($16,919 vs $9855). According to the researchers, the cause for the large difference in Medicaid costs between the 2 groups is because women are more likely to be widowed and living in poverty.

“Starting with addressing the cost and caregiving issues among women is a first step toward a more mature system to treat and care AD patients of all demographic and/or socioeconomic backgrounds,” the authors concluded.