Alzheimer's Staggering Effects

"The Early Show" began a three-part series called "Alzheimers, a National Crisis" on Wednesday. And in advance of a national report card on Alzheimer's to be released Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill, the Alzheimer's Association gave "The Early Show" an exclusive look at the staggering numbers of people affected by the disease. The report shows the number of Americans hit with Alzheimer's will increase from 5.1 million today to 13.5 million in 2050. And the costs of the disease will soar from $172 billion to $1.08 trillion.

Rob Egge, vice president of public policy at the Alzheimer's Association, said on "The Early Show" the nation is on track to having Alzheimer's be the "defining disease" of the baby boomer generation.

He said the greatest risk factor is age.

"If you're over 65, you have a one in eight chance of having Alzheimer's, but if you're 85, you have almost a one in two chance."

He added, "We have an aging society. The baby boomer generation has been moving along. It's just entering retirement, so we know where this is going."

Another factor that increases the number of Alzheimer's patients is the advancements against other diseases, so people are living longer.

"We're (now) aging into the high-risk years for Alzheimer's."

However, there are no preventative methods or a cure, Egge said.

"That's unusual for a disease of this magnitude. That right now, we're standing with no good therapeutic options to change the course of this disease."

Egge said the most important thing now for action is a national strategy to deal with what he called "one of the largest crises our nation is not routinely talking about."

He told "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith, "We need to have a conversation in our homes, in our doctor's offices, but we need it on Capitol Hill. We need it in the White House to figure out what are we going to do about this crisis we're heading towards."

Egge said if the research money were available and the disease were caught in its early stages, people could live possibly for five more years, cutting the costs of the disease perhaps by half.