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Alzheimer’s affects thousands of Mississippians

Alzheimer’s affects thousands of Mississippians

An estimated 62,500 people in Mississippi over age 65 have Alzheimer’s with Jefferson and Claiborne Counties in southwest Mississippi ranked number one and three in the proportion of the 65-plus population affected, according to estimates released by the Alzheimer’s Association.


In addition to a high prevalence of the disease, Mississippi has the highest Alzheimer's mortality rate, largely due to having the worst-quality health care system in the country.


Alzheimer’s disease afflicts an estimated 6.7 million Americans, and that number is only growing.  Medical professionals believe the volume of diagnoses could double by 2060 if there isn’t a breakthrough in prevention—or a cure.


State and detailed county-level estimates show vast disparities in the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease based on racial and socioeconomic factors. Older Americans, women, Black and Hispanic Americans, and those with lower education levels are at higher risk for developing Alzheimer's dementia, according to data from the Chicago Health and Aging Project, on which these estimates were based.


The East and Southeast regions of the U.S. were estimated to have the highest prevalence of Alzheimer's, particularly Maryland, New York, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In Maryland, nearly 30% of residents are Black, and a slightly higher share of the population is 85 and older compared to national numbers—substantial risk factors that earn it the #1 spot.


Some of the most afflicted counties are home to Black and Hispanic populations in the South, low-income populations in Appalachia, and older adults in Florida.  Other studies have found that people in rural areas tend to be underdiagnosed or diagnosed in later stages of dementia, delaying or preventing potential treatments.


Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and is among the top 10 causes of death in the U.S.  These deaths are increasing as fatality rates from other health-related causes, including heart disease and stroke, are on the decline.  With Alzheimer’s, the brain shrinks, brain cells die, and peoples’ memory and language centers fail.  As the disease advances, the loss of brain function leads to dehydration, malnutrition, infection, and ultimately death.


Developing a cure or effective treatment has been slow, as medical professionals still don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s. But earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration fully greenlit the first drug proven to effectively treat the disease: lecanemab (sold under the brand name Leqembi), created by Eisai Inc. and Biogen. Earlier treatments only addressed symptoms of Alzheimer’s, while lecanemab treats the early stages of the disease itself and slows its progression.  The drug costs $26,500 annually and is partially covered by Medicare if a patient’s medical team participates in a registry to track the drug’s outcomes.


Nearly all Alzheimer’s patients are on government insurance, and estimates show that Medicare could spend $2 billion to $5 billion annually on lecanemab and related care. That pales in comparison to the $345 billion that Alzheimer’s and other dementias cost in 2023, including nursing home stays, symptom management medications, and other care for those with the disease. Without medical advancements, the Alzheimer’s Association expects those costs could rise to nearly $1 trillion by 2050.


While Jefferson and Claiborne Counties in southwest Mississippi showed an estimated 18.2 percent (200 patients) and 17 percent (300 patients) of their 65 and older populations with Alzheimer’s, Copiah and Lincoln Counties, which border them, showed much lower proportions of their 65-plus populations affected -- 13.6 percent (700 patients) and 12 percent (700 patients respectively).  Copiah ranked 30th among other state counties.  Other southwest Mississippi counties showed Alzheimer’s rates among their 65-plus populations ranging from 11.8 percent to 15.3 percent:


Lawrence, 11.8 percent (400 patients).

Franklin, 12.6 percent (200 patients).

Simpson, 12.7 percent (600 patients).

Walthall, 13.5 percent (400 patients).

Pike, 13.6 percent (900 patients).

Amite, 13.7 percent (400 patients).

Adams, 14.7 percent (900 patients).

Jefferson Davis, 15 percent (400 patients).

Wilkinson, 15.3 percent (200 patients).


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