US Pharm. 2007;32(6):10.

According to surveys by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, older Americans have high hopes of more drugs being available in the near future. Challenged by the 70 million baby boomers reaching age 65, researchers are testing out more than 900 drugs for their ability to mitigate, treat, and/or cure ailments disproportionately affecting the aging population.

Alzheimer's Disease: The number of people with Alzheimer's has doubled over the last quarter of the century and is expected to affect 11.3 to 16 million by 2050. Alzheimer's disease affects 1 in 10 individuals over age 65 and nearly half of those over age 85. The national direct and indirect costs of caring for patients with Alzheimer's exceed $100 billion. Medicare costs for beneficiaries with Alzheimer's are expected to increase 75%, from $91 billion in 2005 to $160 billion in 2010.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: COPD has the highest prevalence rate in people older than 65, with 59.3 per 1,000 whites and 49 per 1,000 African-Americans. COPD is an important cause of hospitalizations in older Americans; people older than 65 are four times as likely to be hospitalized for COPD than those 45 to 64 years old.

Depression: Depression affects up to 6.5 million of 35 million Americans 65 and older. Depression among the elderly is closely associated with dependency and disability. Symptoms of depression are triggered by chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and arthritis. Depression is one of the most common conditions associated with suicide in older adults. People 65 and older accounted for 18% of all suicide deaths.

Diabetes: Although diabetes affects people of all ages, more than 8.6 million Americans 60 and older have diabetes. Nursing home care for people with diabetes has been estimated to cost in excess of $13.8 billion.

Osteoporosis: Estimated national direct expenditures (hospital and nursing homes) for osteoporosis-related fractures are up to $18 billion, and the cost is rising. One in two women and one in four men over 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.  

Pain: The leading complaint of older Americans is pain, with 20% taking painkillers regularly. Older Americans who take pain medication are likely to suffer from arthritis, bone and joint pain, and low back pain. Pain is also common among nursing home residents, with 45% to 80% suffering from substantial pain that is undertreated.

Parkinson's Disease: PD affects both men and women equally and usually develops after age 65. PD is estimated to cost up to $25 billion per year. As the disease progresses, substantial disability requires assisted living and nursing home care.

By 2050, the elderly will account for 21% of the U.S. population. Life expectancy at age 65 has been increasing to more than 19 years for women and 16 years for men. At age 85, life expectancy has increased for women by seven years and six years for men. The pharmaceutical industry brings hope to seniors in the face of increasing life expectancy.

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