Recently I had the pleasure of presenting to a Parkinson’s support group in my home town. It was a great group of 30+ people who are affected in some way by Parkinson’s. One of the heavy topics of the day was the cost of medical care, and the decreasing coverage of insurances every year. The leader of the group brought up how Dementias of all sorts are going to provide an enormous strain on the resources of our existing healthcare system within the coming generation. She is not wrong!
Currently there are almost 5.8 million Americans with the disease according to the Alzheimer’s association. It is expected that by 2050, 13.8 million people will have the disease…as much as 1 in 3 people over the age of 85. When we add in other types of dementia, Lewy Body, Frontotemporal, vascular, this number continues to increase greatly and at an earlier age. Baby boomers are growing older and coming to an age when the disease most commonly strikes.
What is Alzheimer’s? It is a form of dementia. Little is actually known about what combination of factors causes Alzheimer’s disease, though it is believed that genetics, lifestyle, and environmental exposures (improper diet, chemical exposure, etc.) are all contributors. We do know that three specific brain changes that contribute to this: 1. A protein builds up in the brain causing plaques. 2. A second protein also accumulates causing tangles. 3. This combination causes nerve cells to die and the brain actually shrinks in size.
The most commonly recognized symptom is a memory problem, but the disease does not always start this way. Sometimes it is a difficulty processing new information, make decisions on complicated factors, plan new events. Sometimes it shows up as having difficulty with finances. I had a customer who was a CFO of a company, his first presentation was that he thought he was able to trade stocks and proceeded to trade his and his spouse’s retirement accounts to zero. They were millionaires, and his wife did not notice he was doing it until it was too late. Additionally, a person may hallucinate things are there that aren’t, or smell or hear something that is not there. I had another customer who could smell apples in the middle of the night. She would get up and look for the apples and had several falls.
It is important to note that it is not always easy to see the memory issues up front as it is not always the most prevalent sign. Some people have “large cognitive reserves,” high initial IQ, lots of education, jobs that required lots of brain power or were demanding, and are very good at hiding their symptoms or compensating. They are good at making sure you don’t see it. However, as this disease progresses, confusion about time and place, difficulty speaking and writing, poor judgement, changes in personality, aggression and agitation, and decreased recognition of loved ones starts to present. Eventually people lose the ability to speak, walk, sit, and even swallow.
Even though the majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease are 65 years and older, it is not considered a normal part of aging. It does sometimes occur in younger people. There are about 200,000 people with Alzheimer’s who are younger than 65 years old. Risk factors include family history, type II diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, brain trauma, being female, African American and Latino descent.
The average person with this disease will live 4-8 years after diagnosis and almost half of that time will be in the more severe phases of the illness, requiring around the clock care. This is quite often more care than a loved one can provide. Families quickly learn how expensive long term care solutions can be. Caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will cost $290 billion this year alone. By 2050, the cost will rise to $1.1 trillion. It is by far the most expensive disease in the USA! This single disease will bankrupt Medicare. This is considering Medicare only covers the initial skilled episode. They do not cover the long term care for the person with the disease.
Far greater than the financial toll, is the emotional one. Families fall apart from this. They experience the loss of the person that they know right in front of their eyes. It is cruel and difficult to observe the person you once know disappear slowly into this disease.
Knowing how expensive and prevalent this is, we are attempting to provide environmental and technological solutions to assist in the caregiver burden, and provide strategies to keep people safely in their homes for a greater amount of time. We know that as time moves along with this illness, expenses arise including private duty caregiving, transportation, medication management, and safety strategies. We at SeniorSAFE will assess your home and make the necessary changes to decrease risk of falls and reduce caregiver strain.
Guest Post by:
Kristopher Rench, OT, OTD, OTR/L, CLVT, CMT II, CSHSS
CEO, SeniorSAFE, LLC
Age Safe® America Advisory Team Member
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