Thursday, March 17, 2011

Planning for the Future . . . and Now

This week the Alzheimer's Association released a report showing there are roughly 15 million U.S. unpaid caregivers of dementia patients, which amounts to about $202 billion in savings by taking care of Mom and Dad (or a grandparent, a husband or wife, aunt or uncle, sister or brother, . . .) at home, rather than placing them directly into a facility. The report also shows the heavy toll caring for a loved one with memory impairment is taking on these men and women. A third of them report suffering from depression, and stress is running near 100%.

These kinds of figures have gained the news media's attention and in many cases, news organizations have drilled down to state and local levels to explore the economic and emotional impact. One syndicated article on California cites the following:

Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in California. If trends continue, it will become an even more significant factor in mortality. The number of deaths attributed to the disease increased by 58 percent in the period from 2000 to 2004, the last year for which data are available, the Alzheimer's Association reports.

Current projections are that those who reach age 65 will have a 1 in 8 chance of developing Alzheimer's. Once individuals reach 85, they will have a 50-50 chance of developing the disease.

Article: California planning for increase in Alzheimer's cases

Here in San Diego, our ABC affiliate, HGTV, came to our George G. Glenner Alzheimer's Family Center in Hillcrest yesterday to interview our center manager, Marge Galante, about how Alzheimer's is affecting families throughout our county. She did a wonderful job, and we hope you'll tune into channel 10 this weekend to see their report. (We're waiting to find out when exactly it will run.)

The Alzheimer's Association report urges lawmakers to prepare for the increase in families needing support in the coming decade -- advice that arrived just after the key legislative committee voted to ax state support for adult day health care centers (one of the most cost-effective programs) and create a new agency responsible for a much smaller budget.

We're at a unique period in our society in which the population is pressing into retirement ill prepared for a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer's. Many of these individuals lost from a little to a lot of their nest eggs in the Great Recession and will be relying on family members to help them through the tough journey ahead. These caregivers frequently will have jobs and financial responsibilities related to raising families of their own. They too will quickly be overwhelmed by the additional time, money, patience and empathy required for their new role.

Each generation learns something from its elders, and one lesson will be to take action while healthy for a time when they are not. Long-term health care insurance will become more popular in the coming decades, but in the meantime, we each need to do our part to help our neighbor make the most of the challenging years ahead.

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