The number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple in the next 37 years, according to a new U.S. study.

The study, published online in the Neurology Journal, predicts that 13.8 million people in the U.S. will have Alzheimer’s by 2050. Seven million of them will be 85 or older.

Based on those predictions, Canada could see 2.8 million dementia cases by 2050, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

There are currently about 747,000 dementia patients across the country. That number is expected to double to 1.4 million by 2031.

The co-author of the U.S. study, assistant professor of medicine at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center Jennifer Weuve, said the growing tide of dementia patients highlights “an urgent need for more research, treatments and preventive strategies to reduce this epidemic.”

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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," she said.

Alzheimer Society of Canada CEO Mimi Lowi-Young said the numbers presented in the study are “staggering.”

“I think really it is a call to action for all of us. The impact will be huge.”

Lowi-Young said Canadian hospitals, long-term care homes and caregivers are not prepared for what’s coming. Dementia patients will “swamp the health-care system,” unless a national strategy is implemented, she said.

“Action needs to happen now, otherwise we are going to be in really serious trouble.”

The cost of dementia in Canada is pegged at $33 billion a year. By 2040, it will balloon to $239 billion, according to the Alzheimer Society.

The majority of people living with Alzheimer’s disease are over the age of 65, however, statistics show that younger people are increasingly being affected by dementia. About one in 6 are now under the age of 65, according to the Alzheimer Society.

Women represent almost three-quarters of Alzheimer’s disease patients in Canada.

For caregivers like Julie Foley, whose husband suffers from dementia, the lack of institutional support is an ongoing struggle.

“There is not enough services for either the people who are living with one kind of dementia or another, nor for their caregivers,” Foley said.

“There are none of us who will escape (dementia),” she said. “If it is not your parent, it will be your partner or sibling.”

Mimi Fullerton, whose husband Myer Brody was diagnosed with vascular dementia a year ago, said caregivers also need to be taken care of.

“There are so few places where members of the family can come and get looked after…this is very, very difficult,” she said.

Her husband is part of an adult day program run by Senior People’s Resources in North Toronto, or SPRINT, which offers respite for families. The classes offer stimulation and exercise for patients who are cared for at home. 

The demand for these day programs will only grow, say dementia experts.

That’s why NDP MP Claude Gravelle, who represents Ontario’s Nickel Belt riding, introduced a bill in 2011 calling for a national dementia strategy to fund research and boost programs that help the families of those living with the disease. 

Gravelle’s own mother, Leona, suffered from Alzheimer’s before she died in 2003.

“Canada is the only country in the G8 that does not have an Alzheimer strategy and the problem is not going to go away,” he said. “A few years ago, we used to say that everybody knows somebody with cancer. Now everybody knows somebody with Alzheimer’s.

“We should all be scared.”

With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip