Recent research shows that potentially preventable in-patient hospital admissions account for most of the cost of treatment for American Indian and Alaska Native elders living with dementia. The total treatment costs for Native elders with dementia are $2,943 higher than for those without dementia because of higher hospitalization costs, according to a new study in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia. This was not the case in a study of health expenses among a large sample of nationally representative elders with and without dementia.
This is the first assessment of the treatment costs among American Indian and Alaska Native elders with dementia. The goal of the study was to provide the Indian Health Service and tribes with information to improve their understanding of how health service resources are allocated. Such information can help in decision-making about how to meet the needs of patients and their families in the future. The high costs of treating Native elders with dementia in the hospital suggest that much could be done to prevent some of those hospitalizations and to improve their quality of life.
The study also found that American Indian and Alaska Native elders with dementia had higher rates of other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease and stroke than those without dementia. These conditions were associated with higher treatment costs and increased the clinical complexity of treating patients with dementia.
The study analyzed data for American Indian and Alaska Native elders ages 65 and older who lived in 10 geographic areas throughout the United States and obtained the data from the Indian Health Service national data warehouse and other sources. The authors of the study are working to understand why Native elders with dementia are being admitted to the hospital and how patients’ social, demographic and economic characteristics – such as rural location, income and education – influence hospital use. They are also trying to determine what percentage of costs and admissions is potentially preventable with increased access to outpatient, community and home-based services.
This type of research is critically needed, since dementia is a costly disease to treat in an already underfunded health system. The number of American Indian and Alaska Native elders ages 65 and older is expected to more than double by 2060, and as these elders age, they are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. However, there is little data about dementia treatment costs among Native people compared with other racial and ethnic groups in the United States.