Nearly half of all seniors who need some form of long-term care — from help at home to full-time care in an assisted living facility — have dementia. It’s a staggering problem as the population ages, placing enormous strain on families who provide the bulk of that care at least early on, and on national economies alike.
Cognitive impairment is the strongest predictor of who will move into an assisted care facility within the next two years, 7.5 times more likely than people with cancer, heart disease or other chronic ailments of older adults.
And dropping birth rates mean there are fewer children in families to take care of aging parents, too, said Michael Hodin of the Global Coalition on Aging.
“Very shortly there will be more of us over 60 than under 15,” he noted.
Today, more 5 million in the U.S., are estimated to have Alzheimer’s. Barring a medical breakthrough, those numbers are expected to more than double by 2050.
Meanwhile, the world report focuses on caregiving, stressing how the needs of people with dementia are so different than those of other ailments of aging, such as cancer and heart disease. People with dementia begin needing some help to get through the day early on, to make sure they don’t leave the stove on or get lost.
Eventually, patients lose the ability to do the simplest activities of daily life, and can survive that way for a decade or more. Often family members quit their jobs so they can provide round-the-clock care, and the stress can harm their own health.
Families need early education about what assisted living services are available to help before they’re in a crisis, plus training in how to handle the behavioral problems of the disease — such as not to argue if their loved one thinks Ronald Reagan is still president, or how to handle the agitation at dusk known as sundowning, or how to react when the patient hits someone.
Two-thirds of the calls to assisted living homes are from families that did no planning until the patient had a crisis, such as wandering or a fall.
Patients and families are urged to plan their end-of-life care early, while they’re still cognitively able to participate. This will ease the burden.
For more information on assisted living and dementia care, contact Spring Arbor.