By Victor Wang
As you may have heard, President Obama’s new EPA regulations were released this week, aiming to curb carbon emissions by 30% (compared to 2005 levels) by 2030. According to the EPA, the costs will be in the range of $7.3-$8.8 billion per year, and as a benefit, health gains due to improved air quality would eventually be worth $55-$93 billion. I’m not writing here about the pros and cons of these new rules though — there is plenty of debate about this already, with tons of media attention focused on this topic.
I do want take this opportunity to bring up an interesting comparison: $214 billion was directly spent on Alzheimer’s care in the US last year. This very real number dwarfs the estimated costs and benefits associated with US carbon emissions and climate change.
Clearly, comparing global warming to dementia care is a bit of a stretch, but they are both global issues with vast financial and human/moral costs. It’s interesting to compare the magnitude of the issues versus the amount of public attention and support received.
According to the EPA’s hot-off-the-press report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, global annual economic losses due to a temperature increase of 2°C are estimated to range from 0.2% to 2.0% of global GDP. The average rate of warming has been 0.04°C per decade between 1998 and 2012, and at that rate, a 2°C increase will take 50 years. Also note the large range (10x) in the likely cost — it’s the best guess of 1,729 expert reviewers from 84 countries, with over 12,000 scientific references.
In comparison, according to the very in-depth World Alzheimer Report 2010, the global cost of dementia care was already 1.01% of GDP a few years ago. This number is derived from very detailed, real data, and is constantly increasing: by 2050, Alzheimer’s care in the US alone will cost $1.2 trillion per year (in today’s dollars). As I described in my TEDMED talk about senior care & GeriJoy, one of the primary drivers of that cost has to do with the age demographics of developed countries, and the lack of local supply of human resources demanded for dementia care.
Note here that the caveat with all of this analysis is that some important things can’t be quantified financially: e.g. in the former case the moral cost of the extinction of species or the alteration of natural landscapes, and in the latter case the human cost of families struggling to manage care and suffering the pain of seeing their loved ones forget cherished memories, forsake close personal relationships, and eventually lose the very person that they are as they decline into oblivion.
I’m totally for conservation of the environment. I enjoy hiking, camping, outdoor rock climbing, kayaking, digging up clams on the beach barehanded, roasting said clams around a camp fire and eating them with nothing but the sea salt in their shells (a culinary experience that I highly recommend), and generally relishing all that nature offers in its pristine condition. I can see why the green movement has been so successful, why so many people advocate for environmental issues, for fighting global warming, etc, and why there is such a strong brand around this cause. It’s cool to support nature. It’s hip to be green.
But with the real, present day global cost of dementia care up to five times the projected future cost of global warming, why is there not as much attention on these aging-related issues that will one day affect almost every one of us, as well as our future generations?I realize that this comparison between climate change and dementia is not quite apples to apples — I just happened to be inspired by recent news to write about this, and it also happens to be Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. My point is, as digital health futurist Maneesh Juneja blogged about while covering Health 2.0 Europe, how can we make aging as sexy as global warming? How can we inspire more of the top innovators to create solutions to the problems surrounding aging, and how can we attract the funding necessary to realize and scale these solutions to address the vast magnitude of the problems?
Over the last couple of years, the US has been investing about $40 billion/year in clean energy. By far the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s, only receives about half a billion a year in research funding. Part of the difference is likely because most Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers simply can’t get to Washington to fight for more funding.
While a lot of it has to do with advocacy and public awareness, I think a lot of it is just incumbent on existing players demonstrating the commercial viability of proposed solutions. Branding aging, in particular the emotionally tough topic of dementia/Alzheimer’s, to be a cause as sexy as the green movement will take time. But things that make money have always been sexy.
At GeriJoy, now that we’ve demonstrated the very clear qualitative benefits of our senior care oversight & companionship service, and have shown the life-improving, long-term benefits that we offer families, what’s keeping us busy is proving with influential players in the senior care field that there is a lot of money to be made/saved through our solution. We do our best to spread the message of our cause as we do so, and for example just recently achieved a landslide win on The Startup Conference audience vote (attended by about 2,000 entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley). We’re grateful to be receiving a lot of support, and hopefully our success will contribute to bringing more attention and resources to this field!
What do you think? Aging, Alzheimer’s research, dementia and senior care, are these important issues? If so, how can we help them to get more of the attention and support that they deserve?
Write to us and let us know!