As a society, we can do better when it comes to caring for the elderly. Many people go about their daily lives without giving too much thought to the men and women who have paved the way before us, or those who are caring for them.
There is a common misguided idea that senior citizens have already lived out their lives, and so they are often left behind when deciding where resources like care and researching funding is allocated. More importantly, there is not enough time or effort being spent on improving the quality of their lives toward the end of it.
The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia have skyrocketed in recent years, and this is having a crippling effect on society. Memory impairment not only severely impacts the person whose mind becomes impaired, but it puts immense stress on caregivers as well. Caring for a loved one with memory impairment often impacts their mental health, work performance, personal life and finances. This has a ripple effect on communities as it impacts the lives of those around them as well.
Earlier this month, doctors from the office of the U.S. surgeon general acknowledged this crisis, acknowledging that we are in the midst of a “devastating public health crisis.” In their commentary, they included staggering statistics about the number of those currently living with memory impairment.
According to them, the number of those living with the disease doubles every five years for those over the age of 65, and we are on track for about 14 million people to have the disease by 2050. They also noted that these numbers hit even harder for communities of color, with a prediction that by 2030 close to 40 percent of all Americans living with dementia will be African American or Latino. These numbers are so large, they are almost difficult to even wrap our heads around.
The office compared dementia to other public crises like Ebola, H1N and the opioid crisis, saying:
“And as terrible as these crises are, yet another is now underway — the one resulting from dementia, or a loss of cognitive ability, whether caused by Alzheimer’s or another neurodegenerative disease. Its scale is unprecedented, and its numbers, already tragic, are growing rapidly.”
Their stance on this has served as a much-needed reminder that we can do better.
While we have made great strides in research, those fighting on the front lines of dementia, personally or professionally, are left with little support and resources to provide the care that is needed. Even worse, while their lives become focused on those in their care, life and society goes on around them.
As the surgeon general’s office pointed out:
“…nonprofessional caregivers like friends and family provide most of the care for seniors with dementia. The convergence of an aging population and increased dementias without an appropriate infrastructure of care is potentially catastrophic.”
While the numbers and analysis of this crisis are staggering, this is a great opportunity to discuss the importance of becoming “dementia aware.” I invite you to find out what this means and how you can make your care facility a safe and welcome one for those who have been impacted by dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.