Alzheimer's Disease and the Family Caregiver
Walker, Diane, Aging Today
Alzheimer's disease is progressive, incurable and fatal. As the condition worsens, it deteriorates the victim's brain cells, stripping away memories, devastating muscle function and leaving the afflicted person unaware of the world around them and alienated from their loved ones.
More than 5.3 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease. As the first wave of baby boomers turn age 65 next year, the number of those diagnosed will significantiy increase. By 2030, Alzheimer's is expected to impair more than 7.7 million Americans, and that number is set to reach more than 16 million by 2050.
Globally, more than 35 million have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and though experts agree the real number is much higher, the expectation is that these numbers will continue to grow rapidly. The strain this puts on society is sizable, every year directly costing governments, businesses and families across the globe more than $604 billion, or roughly 1% of the world's annual Gross Domestic Product.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS!
The first step toward better understanding and finding treatment and preventive solutions to this disease is being able to understand its risk factors, the first and most significant being age. The chance of developing the associated symptoms doubles every five years after age 65. Data collected in the 2010 Shriver Report concludes that as many as 45% of elders will develop some form of dementia between the ages of 80 and 85 years old.
Genetics and lifestyle are also risk factors. Having a first-degree relative with Alzheimer's increases the risk of developing the disease, as does obesity, diabetes, hypertension, excessive drinking and high cholesterol. Finally, head injuries, especially those causing a loss of consciousness, have been proven to trigger the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms in people already at a heightened risk.
FAMILY SUFFERS TOO
Patients are not the only ones affected by the disease. Alzheimer's impacts more man 1 1 million family members, too, who not only suffer along with a patient who often no longer recognizes them, but who also provide meals, housekeeping and transportation, grooming and personal care. This underappreciated care accounts for more than 12.5 billion hours of unpaid work every year in the United States. Caregiving is a fulltime job, and can be especially hard when balancing professional, family, personal and caregiving responsibilities. Despite these challenges, many families still choose to assume die caregiving role to avoid a relative's institutionalization.
During my career as a homecare director and now educator at Griswold Special Care, I have seen how the duty of caregiving affects people's work performance, financial stability, health and relationships. …