Alzheimer's is more likely to strike women and puts more demands on women as caregivers.
Women are far more likely to develop the fatal disease than men: one in six women over 65 will get it during their lifetime, compared with one in 11 men.
And, not surprisingly, women are more likely to be caregivers for someone with Alzheimer's, and to pay a bigger personal and professional price for that care than men do.
"This burden is felt across the board," said Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer for the Alzheimer's Association, which will soon launch an advertising campaign to raise awareness about the cost of Alzheimer's on women.
As many as half the people with Alzheimer's don't know they have it, said Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer's Association's vice president of medical and scientific affairs.
"In some cultures, we don't contradict our loved ones or elders," she said, noting that African Americans are twice as likely to get the disease than non-Hispanic whites, but less likely to be diagnosed with it. "Pointing out that they're having a memory problem tends to happen much later."
Recent research shows that the toll of Alzheimer's is gigantic and climbing fast. Feared primarily for its attacks on memory, Alzheimer's is nearly as lethal as America's biggest killers, heart disease and cancer, new estimates suggest.
Women are nearly twice as likely to get Alzheimer's than breast cancer, Carrillo said, and Alzheimer's cases are expected to more than triple by 2050.
Nearly $1 of every $5 spent by Medicare goes to someone living with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, and nationwide we'll spend about $214 billion this year on the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
More than twice as many women provide Alzheimer's care than men, the care they provide is sustained and time-consuming, and substantially more women than men have to cut back on work hours, give up jobs and/or lose benefits to provide that care, the study shows. Obviously, caring for a loved one who is slowly losing their memory and heading toward death takes an emotional toll as well.
So far, most of the costs have gone to caring for people with Alzheimer's, rather than treatment — because there is no treatment to change the course of the disease.
"We would love to see a shift in this balance," Carrillo said, adding that increased federal spending on Alzheimer's research is essential to promote drug research. "We might be able to change this trajectory in the next decade."
One out of every six women will develop the devastating memory loss of Alzheimer's in her lifetime, a new study from the Alzheimer's Association finds. The disease is now either the third or sixth deadliest condition in America and the most expensive, because of the constant care needed for people in its later stages. By calling attention to these scary statistics, the Alzheimer's Association hopes to spur more support for research.
Written by: Karen Weintraub, Special for USA TODAY