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BCBS study shows Louisiana's early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's diagnosis rate one of nation's highest

Posted at 7:46 PM, Feb 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-27 20:46:30-05

A new report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association shows that Louisiana's diagnosis rate for early-onset dementia and Alzheimer's disease in commercially insured Americans is one of the nation's highest.

According to the study, the number of commercially insured Americans from age 30 to 64 diagnosed with early-onset dementia or Alzheimer's increased by 200% from 2013 to 2017. The state saw 10.1 diagnoses per 10,000 members, well above the national rate.

Louisiana ranked 42nd worst out of the 50 states with its combined diagnosis rate of 10.1 per 10,000 commercially insured adults in the four-year study period (2013-2017). Louisiana's four-year rate was well above the national figure, 8.7.

For early-onset Alzheimer's disease only, Louisiana's rate of 2.7 per 10,000 members in the four-year period is also one of the nation's worst and slightly higher than the national rate of 2.2. Diagnosis rates of the two conditions are higher in the South and East, according to the report.

"We are seeing an increase in the diagnosis of early-onset dementia and Alzheimer's disease over the past four years, especially in the South," said Dr. Emily Vincent, medical director at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. "It is important that the medical community continues efforts in research for disease prevention and awareness of symptoms to aid in diagnosis.

Additional findings from the study include:

These conditions are more common in women, who make up 58% of those diagnosed.

The number diagnosed with these conditions increased 373% among 30- to 44-year-olds, 311% among 45- to 54-year-olds and 143% among 55- to 64-year-olds from 2013 to 2017.

In 2017, about 131,000 people between the ages of 30 and 64 were diagnosed with either form of dementia.

The BCBSA report found that the average age of a person living with either form of dementia is 49. The report indicates an increase in Alzheimer's diagnoses among younger generations, which can lead to even greater economic consequences and mental stress for those that provide them care. Nearly 16 million family members and friends provided more than 18 billion hours of unpaid care to persons with Alzheimer's disease in America, costing an estimated $221 billion.

"This is a troubling health trend that has an effect on the entire family and the caregivers of individuals diagnosed with these conditions," said Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana's Vincent. "There must be continued efforts to provide the medical and social support needed by individuals with this diagnosis and those who care for them."

The study took a deeper look into early-onset Alzheimer's disease specifically and found that more than 37,000 commercially insured Americans between the ages of 30 and 64 were diagnosed with the condition in 2017-a 131% jump in diagnoses since 2013.

"The increase in early-onset dementia and Alzheimer's diagnoses among a generation that typically wouldn't expect to encounter these conditions for several decades is concerning, especially since there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Vincent Nelson, BCBSA vice president, Medical Affairs.

The report noted that several factors could be driving an increase in prevalence. It could be heightened awareness of symptoms amongst providers, better usage of diagnosis codes or simply an increase of those who are afflicted with the condition. However, it is important to note that the diagnosis increase in the 30-44 age group is on a small base size, which means small numerical increases in rate drive substantial percentage changes. Also, the results use medical claims data, which cannot determine the causes of diagnosed conditions. Nor can medical claims determine local practice patterns or the amount of health practitioners in a particular geographic area.

You can read the study in its entirety below.