Alzheimers affects millions of Americans and thousands of Coloradans who suffer from the disease and those caretakers who care for them.
On Wednesday, Arkansas Valley Hospice hosted Alzheimer Association Regional Director Ann Carter, who came to the Rocky Ford theater to give a guide for caregivers on how to deal with Alzheimer patients.
“This is a very significant issue right now, it’s going to become an even bigger issue in the future,” Carter said.
That’s because there are around 5.8 million Americans currently diagnosed with Alzheimers and many more who are living with the disease undiagnosed. Carter continued to say that since our population is an aging population and Alzheimers is an age related disease that number could turn into 14 or 15 million by 2050 if no cure is found.
She also gave an estimate on how much the disease is costing taxpayers, she said that right now it costs taxpayers almost $300 billion a year. With the projected increase in Alzheimer's diagnosis she said that number could reach $1 trillion dollars by 2050.
“If we don’t get a handle on this issue it’s going to break the bank in the United States. We can’t stomach something that costs $1 trillion dollars a year, so our efforts with senators and legislatures is to put money into the research,” she said.
That way they could hopefully find a cure for the disease and prevent further problems in the future. While a cure does not exist at the moment Carter did share 10 tips on how to possibly prevent the disease.
Those tips are to quit smoking because it increases the risk of cognitive decline, read, exercise, do challenging games of strategy, stay socially engaged, take care of your mental health, get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, wear a seatbelt in the car or a helmet when riding a bike to avoid brain injuries and to follow your heart because risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke can negatively impact your cognitive health.
Carter said that symptoms of Alzheimers can show up at 65 or younger with 200,000 diagnosed before 65. She added that 1 in 10 men aged 65 are diagnosed and 1 in 8 women aged 65 are diagnosed. But for most she said symptoms begin to show when people are in their 80’s. She continued to say that at 85 some studies show that 1 in 3 or 1 in 2 people will be diagnosed.
With statistics like that it isn’t hard to imagine that many people are touched by the disease. Carter said that there are about 252,000 unpaid, family caregivers throughout the state of Colorado.
She continued to say that the role of a caregiver can be tough, especially as the disease progresses through its stages. Carter said that there are three stages the first can last between 1 to 3 years, the middle which can last 3 to 7 years and the last stage which can last 1 to 3 years.
The middle stage is when things can get really tough for caregivers because that is the stage where people can become moody, hallucinate and wander off. Another sobering statistic she brought up is that they lose around 55% to 60% of caregivers before they lose the person.
“If it’s one wife or one husband trying to do all of this I’m probably going to lose the caregiver quicker than I’m going to lose the person with the disease because it’s so stressful and hard,” she said.
That’s why it is important to get the buy in of the whole family if someone decides to try and take care of their loved one at home. Carter went on to give tips for caregivers on how to approach the behaviors of someone diagnosed with Alzheimers.
Those tips are to remain flexible, respond to the emotion and not the behavior, dont argue or try to convince, use memory aids, acknowledge requests and respond to them, look for reasons behind a behavior, consult a physician to identify any causes related to medications or illness, explore various solutions, don’t take the behavior personally and share your experiences with others.
If you’d like to join a caregiver support group there is one located in La Junta and they meet at the Woodruff Memorial Library, you can register for that group by phone at 1-800-212-3900. There is also a 24/7 hotline offered by the Alzheimer's Association that you can contact at 800-272-3900.