Do You Have Dementia Yet?

    So the group Alzheimer’s Disease International has released its 2009 World Alzheimer Report, in which it predicts that the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other dementias will double every twenty years for the foreseeable future. By 2050, they calculate, the figure will reach 115.4 million worldwide. You can read the whole thing here.

    What are we going to do with all these batty oldsters? According to the ADI, “All over the world, the family remains the cornerstone of care for older people who have lost the capacity for independent living.” But the Report goes on to admit, “In developed countries, many of which have comprehensive health and social care systems, the role of families, and their need for support, is often overlooked.” Really!

    The average Alzheimer’s patient requires approximately 7.4 hours a day of caregiving time, according to the ADI, hours divided between helping with ADL’s (activities of daily living), “instrumental” ADL’s (I’ve never heard that term before – apparently it refers to cooking, shopping, bill paying and such) and general supervision. That’s pretty close to the number of hours I put in, except that I don’t record the time I spend doing general supervision, and I don’t have any idea how to figure out how many hours Maw spends taking care of Paw. Anyway, the point is that even one demented parent = just about a full-time job.

    This Report, which is a meta-analysis (an analysis of other analyses published over the past few years) of the societal costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, barely sticks its toe into the topic of the cost to caregivers. It does comment that “In the USA, more than 40% of family and other unpaid caregivers of people with dementia rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high.” It also estimates that the chance of a caregiver developing his or her own chronic illness (such as depression), with its own societal cost, may be as much as 38 times what he or she would face without a basement full of disabled seniors.

    Now I’m new to reading this kind of thing, and it took me forever to figure out the charts on page ten, but I finally grasped the fact that the amount of research $$ invested in dementia and other debilitating, but not deadly, diseases, is outstripped by the much more robust funding for cancer, heart disease and other things that might kill you. So the upshot here is that these days, you’ll be much more likely to survive your heart attack, only to double your years with some kind of dementia for which there is little effective treatment, unless the powers that be start pouring a little more green stuff into the study of Alzheimer’s and similar conditions. And since developing “cognitive impairment” is by far, according to the ADI, the most reliable indicator that someone will end up in a nursing facility, over the next forty years the burgeoning crowds of dotty grannies are going to cost you and me, well, (I’m paraphrasing here) bazillions of bucks.

    How can we avoid such a massive expenditure? Ooh, ooh! I know! I know! Fork over a much smaller amount to train and support family caregivers! The ADI points out that while Alzheimer’s is largely a FastPass to a nursing home, “people with quite severe disabilities arising from physical impairment continue to by supported at home by community services.” Yeah! Like that! Let’s give people serious tax credits for caring for their elderly relatives in their homes. Let’s give them incentives to buy multi-family houses with wheelchair lifts and roll-in showers. Let’s subsidize the cost of in-home nurses, therapists and other assistants. There are millions of families willing to put in bazillions of bazillions of volunteer hours taking care of their moms and dads and uncles and friends. Let’s make it possible for them to do it!

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