Healthcare Time Bomb Ticking Down

Healthcare Time Bomb Ticking Down

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*Ed Yeates Reporting*This is the first piece of a two-part special report

Researchers released some sobering news this week about a villain that threatens to bankrupt this country's health care system within the next 50 years. Some call it a time bomb already triggered and ticking.

Places like the Silverado Center cater to a special clientele. Before they die within 18 to 24 months, most will lose their identity, not recognizing themselves or anybody around them. They're just the first wave in what's being called a "boomer bombshell."

“You’ll never know dear, how much I love you…” She can lip sync almost exactly the words to the song, but like others in the room, memories of all that she loves are fading. Alzheimer's Disease has become the bane of an aging population.

Dan Christensen, M.D., Ph.D., Univ. of Utah Institute of Neuropsychiatry: "There are currently four-million Alzheimer's patients in the country. The projection is that within 50 years there will be four times that number - maybe as many as 16-million."

Former airline pilots, engineers, scientists, CEO's, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers - they're all facing this reality. On the average within the 18 to 24 months before they die the disease will rob them of everything they are or were. In three to five month interviews over more than two years, University of Utah psychiatrist Dr. Dan Christensen documents the insidious cycle with Rex Steele.

At first, Rex can't remember the season, the month, or the day. At two years, Rex no longer knows Dr. Christensen. Memories fade rapidly now. Answers don't make sense. Sentences are incoherent. Dr. Christensen asks how old are you now Rex?

Rex: "A..a..a..a.This is the first time I ever tried the..ssss cedar."

Rex Steele died at home six months ago. His widow, Karen, now holds on to her own memories of when times were good, when Rex could still smile. The villain who robbed him of what he was, she chooses to forget.

Karen Steele: "And I'm glad I can forget that. That it was the good times, that we had the relationship we had, when he...because he was a very neat guy."

Rex is the handwriting on the wall the government wants to rewrite. In addition to the nightmare for families, treating four-million patients now is costing a hundred billion dollars per year. Try quadrupling that.

Dan Christensen, M.D., Ph.D., Univ. of Utah Institute of Neuropsychiatry: "But the worry is, it could bankrupt the health care system."

A two prong attack is underway here in Utah to find a way to diagnose Alzheimer's long before symptoms appear, then immunize, so to speak, to keep it that way.

That report, coming up tomorrow night at 10:00.

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