Alzheimer's rates expected to triple by 2050 because of aging baby boomers

In this Sept. 20, 2012 photo, dementia patients sitting in a circle formation do an exercise called "the parachute" at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx borough of New York. The Hebrew Home has a program that provides care and activity overnight for dementia victims with sleep problems. (AP Photo/Jim Fitzgerald) AP

The number of people living with Alzheimer's disease is expected to triple by 2050, a new study shows.

The increase is being driven by an aging baby boomer population and may place a huge burden on the medical care system, according to the study's authors.

"Our study draws attention to an urgent need for more research, treatments and preventive strategies to reduce this epidemic," study author Jennifer Weuve, an assistant professor of medicine at Rush Institute for Healthy Aging in Chicago, said in a press release.

Rush researchers used U.S. Census figures and followed 10,000 Chicago-area patients ages 65 and older between 1993 and 2011. Those participants were interviewed and given tests for dementia every three years over the study period.

The data suggested that the number of people living with Alzhemier's will climb from 4.7 million patients in 2010 to 13.8 million by 2050. Based on life expectancy, about 7 million of those with the disease will be at least 85 years old by 2050.

"Our detailed projections use the most up-to-date data, but they are similar to projections made years and decades ago," said Weuve. " All of these projections anticipate a future with a dramatic increase in the number of people with Alzheimer's and should compel us to prepare for it."

The study was published online Feb. 6 in Neurology.

Previously, the government predicted the current number of patients with Alzheimer's (currently 5.3 million, according to estimates) was supposed to double by 2050, what officials had dubbed the "Silver Tsunami."

Weuve told CBS News correspondent Pam Coulter that predicting the onslaught of Alzheimer's was similar to forecasting a hurricane.

"We know a hurricane is coming and what these numbers tell us is what category it's going to be, which is pretty high, and when it will get really bad," she said.

Weuve added to Coulter that more research is needed to stall the disease, and more services are needed that target patients and caregivers.

A 2012 report from theInstitute of Medicine, a nonprofit organization of doctors that advices the government on policy, found baby boomers face a mental health "crisis" because of the number of aging seniors that will need mental health services for symptoms related to dementia, among other disorders.

Last year, the Obama Administration kicked off its National Alzheimer's Planto find a better treatment for the disease that can't be slowed, prevented or cured by the year 2025.

Scientists hope several ongoing studies on new medications lead to game-changing treatments.

For more information on the disease, visit Alzheimer's.gov.

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