More Americans are living longer and surviving chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer but that’s led to rising number of neurological disorders, which disproportionately affect the elderly.
A new report from University of South Florida researchers has estimated just how much money those disorders are costing patients and the health care industry -- nearly $800 billion a year.
Dr. Clifton Gooch, professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine in Tampa, is the lead author of the study, which was published in the Annals of Neurology, the official journal of the American Neurological Association and the Child Neurology Society.
He said the researchers were expecting the total to be high, but were surprised by the large figure.
"By contrast, the entire U.S. military budget in 2016 was $598 billion, so this total actually exceeds military spending in the U.S. and the U.S. has the largest military budget in the world,” Gooch said.
The study looked at the nine most prevalent and costly diagnosed neurological disorders. By 2030, it estimates, $600 billion will be spent treating stroke and dementia alone. In addition, low back pain, traumatic brain injury, migraine headache, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s disease emerged as the most common disorders posing a serious financial burden.
“Unfortunately, although there has been some investment in neurological research, it has not kept pace,” Gooch said. “Nor has there ever been really the same kind of money put into research for neurology as has been for these other disorders. And now we have a problem because with the increase in lifespan we have a larger number of elderly people than ever.”
The $800 billion factors in the cost of treatment and caregivers, and lost wages from disability.
Cooch says that in the next 10 to 20 years, the cost of neurological care rises to twice that of the current U.S. military budget.
"That's the kind of cost that could not only destabilize the entire U.S. health care system, but could actually significantly impact the economy as a whole. So that's not something we should ignore,” Gooch said.
In the paper, Gooch calls on the federal government to provide more National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding -- which he says fund the majority of this type of research -- to speed the development of treatments and cures for diseases such as dementia and stroke, including therapies to delay, minimize and prevent them.
“We don't necessarily have to cure everything,” Gooch said. “Some of the progress in cancer and heart disease has actually been just to improve the disease or to delay its onset. And this can actually yield tremendous benefits. People think, ‘well, if you can’t cure the disease, what good is it?’ But in fact it can be tremendously beneficial.”
“If we can come up with a treatment that doesn't cure Alzheimer's, but instead simply delays its onset by 10 years, we will eliminate 75 percent of cases because we push it beyond the lifespan of most people,” Gooch said.
He also proposes the creation of a more effective national database to track treatment successes and failures.
Gooch writes that the years of productivity lost in the 100 million Americans living with neurological and musculoskeletal disorders is more than any other category of disease.