As its population gets older in the coming decades, America can expect a dramatic rise in the number of people with Alzheimer's disease.

By 2050, the number of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer's will have tripled, to 13.8 million, from 4.7 million in 2010, according to a new study.

"It will place a huge burden on society, disabling more people who develop the disease, challenging their caregivers and straining medical and social safety nets," said researcher Jennifer Weuve, an assistant professor of medicine at Rush Institute for Healthy Aging, in Chicago.

The increase will be largely due to the aging Baby Boomer generation, Weuve said.

The new estimates are based on the current and projected populations of the United States (using information from the 2000 census), the incidence of Alzheimer's disease, population death rates and other factors.

The study estimates that the number of people age 65 and older in 2050 will be 88.5 million, compared with 40.3 million in 2010.

The number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease in 2010 included 700,000 Americans who were ages 65-74; 2.3 million ages 75-84, and 1.8 million ages 85 and over, the study found. By 2050, when the youngest Baby Boomers will be 86 years old, those numbers will increase to 1.3 million people ages 65-74; 5.4 million ages 75- 84, and 7 million ages 85 and over.

The risk of Alzheimer's disease is highest in those over age 85.

"Our study draws attention to an urgent need for more research, treatments and preventive strategies to reduce this epidemic," Weuve said.

The study was published in the Feb. 6 issue of the journal Neurology.

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