A better understanding of dementia is essential to the future of public health.


Dementia is a term encompassing about 70 different pathologies affecting the brain. Dementia victims suffer a decline in cognitive functions – such as memory, recognition, reasoning, and orientation – sufficient to reduce their ability to function normally.

Alzheimer’s is by far the most common form of dementia, accounting for between 60 and 80 percent of the cases. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and the fifth leading cause among people age 65 and older. About 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s; that number is expected to double by the year 2050 due to both demographics and longer life spans. 

African Americans are twice as likely to have dementia as whites, and Latinos are one and a half times more likely. In other words, for every ten white people with dementia, there are 20 African Americans and 15 Latinos.

The Alzheimer’s Association calculates the health care costs of dementia across the U.S. at $236 billion in 2016, with 68 percent [$160 billion] covered by Medicare and Medicaid.   The typical family of an Alzheimer’s victim pays about $10,000 out of pocket each year.

Based on the national data above, we estimate about 15,000 people in Pierce County have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, with an annual medical cost of about $600 million.

Here are some references on dementia, and on cognitive reserve.