Transforming the System: Spreading Costs Equally

The backwards march on economic gains for women has begun and Alzheimer’s disease bears more of the blame than one would think. For millions of American women who live with the disease or find themselves in the role of caregiver, Alzheimer’s drains savings built over a lifetime, results in career sacrifices, and depletes finances.

Alzheimer’s causes staggering economic disparities, with women bearing 80 percent of the disease’s social cost. Fighting these disparities is the May theme of the We Won’t Wait Campaign, and the topic of an event we co-hosted with AARP on May 8: “Voices of Action: Addressing the Economic Disparities of Dementia for Women.”

The “Voices of Action” event explored a set of compelling new studies on the topic, like the Milken Institute’s report “The Price Women Pay for Dementia,” which finds that more than three-quarters of the US costs of Alzheimer’s are borne by women. This translates to $91 billion in treatment expenditures, indirect impacts, and altered living arrangements. And this total is only going to increase. It’s estimated that the impact of Alzheimer’s on women will cost the US economy $5.1 trillion through 2040.

But these disparities are not inevitable; they are the result of our existing social support, medical, and workplace systems. We must transform these systems to spread the costs of Alzheimer’s in a more equal way. There are three core causes – and each can be solved:

 

Women pay for gaps in support.

  • Challenge: Our current support systems do not always adequately provide for those with Alzheimer’s, which leaves unpaid family caregivers to bear the burden. Women account for more than 2/3 of these caregivers, who provided roughly $230 billion in unpaid care in 2016. Alzheimer’s caregivers also spend an average of $5,155 out-of-pocket on care annually, compounding losses to income and savings.
  • Potential Solutions: In addition to dealing with the many challenges of giving care, caregivers are often faced with unanticipated challenges related to their own physical and mental health and economic well-being. We must advocate for our caregivers – focusing our attention on ensuring that they receive proper training and adequate support. Providing better caregiver training would alleviate the burden on family caregivers and lead to better outcomes for patients as well..

 

Women pay for medical treatment and healthcare.

  • Challenge: In the US, total Alzheimer’s treatment expenditures for women are nearly three times greater than those for men, and in each individual case of Alzheimer’s, the direct treatment costs are $3,000 higher for women. At the same time, funding for sex-based medical research remains limited, which slows progress towards therapeutic breakthroughs.
  • Potential Solutions: Developing effective preventions, treatments, and ultimately, a cure for Alzheimer’s will require far greater funding from both private and public sources, with a particular focus on sex-based research. Ultimately, we will also need public and private stakeholders in the Alzheimer’s space to ensure that eventual treatments will be accessible to as many patients as possible.

 

Women pay for the workplace and professional impacts of Alzheimer’s.

  • Challenge: 60 percent more women Alzheimer’s caregivers leave their jobs than men, and this decision can cost more than $300,000 in lost wages and Social Security benefits. Overall, the impact of Alzheimer’s care on women employees results in almost $30 billion in lost GDP annually – 80 percent due to absenteeism and presenteeism.
  • Potential Solutions: Businesses and policymakers should adopt policies that support employee caregivers, including telecommuting, flex time, and other arrangements that allow for caregiving, including paid time off. Many of these policies will also reduce productivity losses, increase employee loyalty and benefit companies’ bottom-lines. Policy changes should also be coupled with awareness and educational campaigns to create workplaces and work cultures that are more accepting and accommodating of family caregivers.
     

We Won’t Wait to challenge the skyrocketing costs of Alzheimer’s disease and their impacts on women. Through channels like the Voices of Action event this month, or WA2 President Jill Lesser’s testimony to Congress, we are overturning business-as-usual approaches and insisting on new, less expensive, and more equitable solutions for Alzheimer’s.