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Study: Alzheimer's Affecting More Elderly Than Previously Thought

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A new study shows we may be vastly underestimating Alzheimer's disease.

Officially, the memory-robbing disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, however, the study suggests its impact may actually be on par with cancer and heart disease, CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez reported.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, 5.5 million people in the U.S. are suffering from Alzheimer's.

Both of Dave Roth's parents have Alzheimer's.

"When you finally get the diagnosis, it's heartbreaking because you know you're already losing them before they're gone," Roth said.

Alzheimer's officially contributes to more than 100,000 deaths per year in the U.S. But as bad as that number sounds, Gomez said it's actually a huge underestimate.

"Our current estimates of how many people die with Alzheimer's are really much lower than what they really, much lower to what they probably are. And so, it really opens our eyes as to how important Alzheimer's disease is in the elderly," said Dr. James Leverenz, of Cleveland Clinic.

That's according to a new study from Rush University Medical Center, which looked at more than 2,500 people 65 and older.

The participants received annual testing for dementia, Gomez reported.

After an average of eight years, almost half the people had passed away and of those, nearly 600 who did not have dementia when the study began, had developed Alzheimer's.

Researchers say the findings in the study far exceed the official government numbers reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The results translate into Alzheimer's contributing to more than half a million deaths per year - five to six times higher than the CDC's number.

Dr. Leverenz said research should be a much greater priority.

"We need to know more about the disease and we need to come up with better ways to treat the disease and that's going to require more research."

For every $28,000 the government spends on care for Alzheimer's patients, it only spends $100 on Alzheimer's research.

The Alzheimer's Association says that funding is not nearly enough to cope with the escalating national epidemic.

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