Americans are living longer, which is good but also expensive. Longer lives put a strain on Social Security and are running up the cost of mental health.
As the state with the third-oldest population, West Virginia will be one of the first hit with this problem, and West Virginians need to face the problem sooner rather than later.
The RAND Corp. studied health costs and found that the most expensive illnesses to treat in the United States are not cancer or heart disease, but rather those involving dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia.
RAND estimated the price of treating 4.1 million people who have dementia at $157 billion to $215 billion a year. Those figures include the cost of informal care provided by family, friends and other unpaid people.
The direct costs are estimated at $109 billion a year.
That compares to $102 billion for heart disease and $77 billion for cancer.
RAND estimated the cost per year per person at $41,000 to $56,000 a year, with many living from four to eight years after their initial diagnosis but some as long as 20 years.
These are diseases that affect the elderly. Of the 4.1 million Americans with dementia, RAND estimated 3.8 million are older than 70.
In 30 years, that number will top 9 million.
"The long-term care costs associated with people with dementia are particularly high because of the nature of the disease," Donald Moulds, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told the New York Times.
"People eventually become incapable of caring for themselves, and then in the vast majority of cases, their loved ones become incapable of caring for them."
West Virginia already is feeling the effect of dementia. These costs hit Medicare, which covers the elderly, and Medicaid, which covers the poor and the disabled.
The nation and the state must figure out how society will deal with what will be a crushing blow to many a family's finances and state budget through Medicaid in the coming years.