Social and demographic trends, combined with an expected tripling of the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia due to the size of the aging population, are in danger of colliding to put local, state and federal budgets in crisis. A new report, “Hiding in Plain Sight,” by economist Nick Eberstadt, shows that the United States has vastly underestimated the public costs and consequences of the Alzheimer’s epidemic.

Diminished resources

“Relatively few Americans and their families can finance long-term care entirely out of their own pockets.”

The decline in two-parent households leading to diminished financial resources, an increase in the number of older adults who live by themselves with no family member to care for them and new patterns of wealth accumulation are among trends that will exacerbate the impact of Alzheimer's. The rise in single-parent households falls disproportionately on women and people of color — primarily African-Americans and Latinos — putting these populations, which are 2 and 1.5 times, respectively, more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their white counterparts, at greater risk for financial hardship.

The cost of care   

Although the country is very wealthy as a whole, the typical family is not. Relatively few Americans and their families can finance long-term care entirely out of their own pockets. The clear majority of families — a group much larger than generally recognized — won’t be able to afford to care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, and the burden will shift to the government for care and treatment through Medicare and Medicaid. This is a costly trend that the government has not planned for and may be unable to meet.

As Mr. Eberstadt writes, “Simply put: where we have underestimated social vulnerabilities to the epidemic, we have certainly underestimated the public costs and consequences of the epidemic as well.”

Only a clear national and worldwide commitment to finding a cure or disease-altering treatment for this dreadful disease will change this trajectory of impending financial devastation.