In hindsight, Jerri Beers suspects it was Alzheimer’s disease that afflicted her grandfather three decades ago.
That’s not what doctors called it, of course. Information about the neurological disease that causes progressive memory loss and cognitive decline wasn’t so readily available then. About 90 percent of what we know about the disease has been discovered in the past 15 years, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“They came up with better ways to diagnose it in people, so just like any other disease – cancer, things like that – there’s more testing, more out there, so you can get a better diagnosis,” said Beers, today the executive director of Fox Point Manor in McHenry, a live-in memory care facility that specifically assists Alzheimer’s patients.
A greater aptitude for diagnosing the disease has combined with medical advancements and mixed, in recent years, with an aging population of baby boomers. The result: The number of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease could jump from 5 million to 7.1 million by 2025, and to 13.8 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
That doesn’t include early onset Alzheimer’s – encompassing those patients younger than 65 – which affects 200,000 people.
One immediate consequence of a fast-growing population of Alzheimer’s patients is a need for services geared toward those who suffer from dementia.
“With the increase, we’re certainly going to have to expand,” Beers said. The Fox Pointe Manor in McHenry opened five years ago, and Fox Pointe has opened other Alzheimer’s-specific centers across Illinois and Wisconsin in recent years.
Jennifer Prell, a senior housing expert with Elderwerks, said it is becoming increasingly common for senior care centers to devote entire floors or buildings to Alzheimer’s care.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that goes through seven stages of cognitive and memory degeneration.
“They’re making accommodations for early onset as well as floors for the late stages,” Prell said.
Prell said the already booming senior care industry will continue to grow in coming years as the population seeking care grows. As of Jan. 1, 2011, members of the baby boomer generation began turning 65, and each day for the next two decades about 10,000 boomers will reach that age, according to the Pew Reseach Center.
That’s not anything unexpected to people who have been paying attention, said Kim Larson, executive director of Family Alliance, a center for dayside adult care in Woodstock. The center serves about 350 clients through its day care services, about 50 percent of which deal with dementia.
Larson said Family Alliance is trying to be proactive in assessing the direction of the local community, and constantly adding services to fit the current needs. It is circulating surveys at the moment.
“We’re asking not only about the aging population, but the sandwich generation – those 40 and older looking for options for their elderly parents,” Larson said. “We want to locate gaps in services and prepare for them.”
Family Alliance keeps its clientele active, scheduling daily exercise and tai chi times.
A stagnant brain degenerates more quickly, experts say.
Beers said there’s no known way to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s, but keeping individuals with the disease active physically and mentally is important. An activity such as dancing works double because it combines exercise with the cognitive stimulation of remembering dance steps.
Beers added that those who are seeing signs of Alzheimer’s in loved ones should take finding help seriously.
“I think the biggest obstacle is educating families on what the resident’s needs are,” she said. “The places that offer this specialized care are important not only for the patient, but for them as well.”
10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Change in mood or personality
Source: Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org/
Facts about Alzheimer’s disease
• Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
• Deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 68 percent between 2000 and 2010, while deaths from other major diseases, including the No. 1 cause of death (heart disease), decreased.
• More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease.
• Of Americans 65 and over, one in nine has Alzheimer’s, and one in three people aged 85 and older has the disease.
• In 2012, 15.4 million caregivers provided more then 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $216 billion.
• Nearly 15 percent of caregivers live an hour or more away from their loved ones. Out-of-pocket caregiving costs are nearly twice as high for long-distance caregivers compared with local caregivers.
• In 2013, Alzheimer’s will cost the nation $203 billion. This number is expected to rise to $1.2 trillion by 2050
Source: Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org/