Alzheimer’s disease is now considered a “national threat,” according to a documentary that will air tonight on Iowa Public Television.

Mercedes Pitzer, spokeswoman for the Alzheimer’s Association East Central Iowa Chapter in Cedar Rapids, says the one-hour program highlights the significant and growing burden of the memory-stealing affliction.

“Many people know that this disease is a unique tragedy, but few know that Alzheimer’s is one of the most critical public health crises facing America,” Pitzer says. “This documentary will illustrate the social and economic implications that are going to be affecting people if we don’t find a cure for it in the near future.” Due to the length of time people live with Alzheimer’s and their need for care, she says it’s considered the most expensive disease in the country.

Pitzer says future costs for Alzheimer’s threaten to bankrupt Medicare, Medicaid and the savings accounts of millions of Americans. “Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are costing the nation $236-billion, which is crazy,” Pitzer says. “If we’re not going to do anything about it or find a cure, that takes costs up to $1.1-trillion in today’s dollars by mid-century.”

About 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, a number that’s expected to nearly triple by 2050 without a cure. The problem is worsening in Iowa, as well. “Unfortunately, those numbers are increasing,” Pitzer says. “Currently, 63,000 Iowans are affected by the disease and that’s not including the people who have not been diagnosed by doctors.”

Alzheimer’s typically strikes people over the age of 65 but in rare cases, early onset can appear in the late 30s. The documentary, “Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts,” airs at 9 p.m. on IPTV.