Number of Alzheimer's patients could triple by 2050

A new study suggests the number of Alzheimer's patients could triple by the year 2050. The rise is attributed to a combination of a true increase in cases and greater detection of the disease.

Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, says that these numbers are based on three specific things: more people getting tested, better diagnosis, and an increase in life expectancy.

Dr. Murali Doraiswamy CBS News

As we are able to treat other diseases such as cancer and heart disease, the population itself is living longer. Since the biggest risk for Alzheimer's is aging, the larger the elderly population, the more the disease is diagnosed.

Doraiswamy says part of what's scary is how hard it will be on America's health care system. A big factor will be if medical science can come up with treatments to slow the progression of the disease.

"We're broke and we're going to be really broke," he said. "It's expected to add about $2 trillion to our health care budget, and the number of family caregivers is going to go from 15 million to maybe 50 million."

Unfortunately, for those diagnosed there is no magic cure yet, but there are some things people can do on an individual level to start strengthening their bodies. "Being heart healthy, exercising, and trying to eat a diet that's not too fatty," suggests Doraiswamy. "And also keeping yourself mentally and socially active."

Since such a large risk for Alzheimer's comes from stroke and vascular health factors, he also suggests aerobic activity. "It cuts down a risk for stroke, and increases the flow of blood to the brain," he said. "There is evidence that a walk a day can keep Alzheimer's away."