WASHINGTON - Nearly half of all seniors who need some form of long-term care from help at home to full-time care in a facility have dementia, the World Alzheimer Report said recently.
The world report focuses on caregiving, stressing how the needs of people with dementia are so different than those of other ailments of aging, such as cancer and heart disease. People with dementia begin needing some help to get through the day early on, to make sure they don't leave the stove on or get lost, for example. Patients can survive that way for a decade or more. Often family members quit their jobs so they can provide round-the-clock care, and the stress can harm their own health. It's a staggering problem as the global population ages, placing enormous strain on families who provide the bulk of that care at least early on, and on national economies alike.
"I have heard caregivers say 'it is my job to take care of them and I will do it even if it kills me,'" said Ruth Almen, regional director of the Upper Peninsula office of the Alzheimer's Association. "It's important that caregivers know that this is bigger then just you, this is an enormous disease."
Retired physician David Hilfiker, of Washington, leaves the National Press Club in Washington on his bicycle. (AP photo)
Hilfiker talks about his life. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in September 2012, and has been writing about the experience of losing his mental capacity in his blog 'Watching the Lights Go Out.' (AP photo)
The world report said families need early education about what services are available to help before they're in a crisis, plus training in how to handle the behavioral problems of the disease - such as not to argue if their loved one thinks Ronald Reagan is still president, or how to handle the agitation at dusk known as sundowning, or how to react when the patient hits someone.
"It's important to get as much information as they can about the disease and to talk with people about how they see this playing out," Almen said. "They can make advance directives about homecare and finances that can't happened after a certain point in this disease. Alzheimer's looks different to everybody so it's important to figure out how to talk to people about it so they can be kind and helpful."
Cognitive impairment is the strongest predictor of who will move into a care facility within the next two years, 7.5 times more likely than people with cancer, heart disease or other chronic ailments of older adults, the report found.
"Losing the ability to do the simplest of things can be a safety concern," Almen said. "Each case is unique because you don't always know where a patient is at."
There are services through out Marquette County that can help caregivers with the burden of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's. The Alzheimer's Association has volunteers that will transport patients to their doctors appointments, they also offer educational materials to better understand the disease, Local senior center offer support as well as in-home services like homemaker aide, chore services, outreach and case coordination.
"We provide weekly housecleaning for patients suffering from dementia," Lindsay Juricek, a social worker for the Negaunee Senior Center, said. "Have the same cleaners come at the same time on the same day to provide consistency for them."
This week, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced $45 million in new Alzheimer's research, with most of the money focused on finding ways to prevent or at least delay the devastating disease. Overall, the nation has been investing about $400 million a year in Alzheimer's research.
The disease's financial toll is $200 billion a year in the U.S. alone, a tab expected to pass $1 trillion by 2050 in medical and nursing home expenditures - not counting unpaid family caregiving.
Sylvia Stevens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.