The month of November marks National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Caregivers Month. President Ronald Reagan designated National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in 1983. In 1987, President Bill Clinton did likewise for National Caregivers Month.
There are almost 6 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease. Our family caregivers provide most of the hours towards caring for those affected by dementia. The caregivers are those on the front lines of the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
November seems like a perfect time to celebrate all caregivers during Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
The facts and figures that surround Alzheimer’s disease are sobering. Why do any of us want to know these facts? What difference does increasing awareness matter? Let’s look at some of the facts that the Alzheimer’s Association shares about these brain diseases.
- 7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 14 million. Almost two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are women. Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops the disease.
- Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th-leading cause of death in the United States. It is the only top 10 cause of death that cannot be prevented, cured, or even slowed.
- One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
- Family and other unpaid caregivers provide 18.4 billion hours of care. Nearly half of all caregivers who provide help to older adults do so for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Approximately two-thirds of caregivers are women.
- In 2018, Alzheimer’s and dementia will cost American society 277 billion. By 2050, costs could rise as high as $1.1 trillion. The costs of health care and long-term care for those with Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related diseases are astronomical.
What can we do today, knowing some of the facts about these dementia-related diseases?
By becoming more informed, we usually begin to pay more attention. Perhaps more attention means more are willing to financially support caregiver causes or research. Perhaps it becomes more evident what the challenges a friend or family member faces while caring for someone with a brain disease.
Learning more about Alzheimer’s may lead to earlier diagnosis for others or ourselves. The Alzheimer’s Association discusses how early diagnosis provides a number of important benefits to diagnosed individuals, their caregivers and loved ones, as well as society as a whole. Early diagnosis enables one to prepare legally and financially and make end-of-life plans while cognitively still able to make decisions.
Yes, the truth is sobering. It could be tempting to hide our heads in the sand rather than face the devastation Alzheimer’s disease and dementia wreak. However, the disease marches on and without a better understanding, how does society begin to fight back?
If you have not encountered any of these dementia diseases in your own personal life, it is not hard to imagine how frightening it must be to start losing your memory. Our memories help define who we are. They are central to our identity. They play a large factor in the way that we perceive time.
Who has not had the experience of remembering an event in the past and thinking, “wow that seems like just yesterday and at the same time seems like so long ago?” We look at a picture of a child starting kindergarten and now we have a high school graduation picture on the wall.
Just this past Halloween I texted my adult daughter telling her how much fun it was having the kids coming to the house trick or treating. The memories of her enjoyment of Halloween and the costumes I loved sewing, make it seem like those days were just yesterday, rather than twenty plus years ago.
The experiences I am able to share remind me how precious memory is. I treasure this ability. It is not a stretch to imagine how life could feel without it – whether it is my cognition that fails or that of a loved one.
That is why I find it important to stop and pay attention to Alzheimer’s disease and to pay tribute to caregivers. We have nothing to lose by being educated. During this month of November, it would be great if everyone could do one thing to support caregivers and those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Talk about the disease. Share your stories and thoughts. Share an article you have read. Volunteer. Offer support for someone with dementia or his or her caregiver. Visit someone who is caring for a loved one with dementia. Try to vote for those who are committed to curing this disease. Donate to those causes, which are trying to make a difference in caring for our caregivers and fighting dementia.
There are many ways we can salute our caregivers and increase our understanding of dementia.
North Shore Elder Services offers caregiver support groups and options counseling. Many of our caregivers and consumers are dealing with dementia-related diseases. We have the expertise to guide you and provide helpful resources. Visit our website at https://nselder.org/family-caregiver-support-program/ or https://nselder.org/options-counseling-program/ You can reach us by calling Information Services at 978-750-4540.