Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects more than 5.4 million people in the United States - and that number is expected to grow.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, by 2050, as many as 16 million individuals will be coping with the severe memory loss, confusion, changes to thinking and behavior, and other symptoms the neurodegenerative disease causes. Approximately 200,000 people have younger-onset Alzheimer’s, which affects people younger than 65 – some as young as 30 years of age.
In South Jersey, Alzheimer’s or a related disorder impacts 85,000 individuals and their families.
Currently the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death, Alzheimer’s is the only one on the list of the top ten deadliest diseases that has no cure or effective treatment. There is also no way to prevent it.
No one survives Alzheimer’s.
Women, in particular, are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s. More than three million women in the U.S. older than 65 have the disease, compared to 1.8 million men in that age category, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s latest Facts and Figures report.
And when a family receives the doctor’s news that their loved one has Alzheimer’s, more than likely it is the woman who takes on the responsibility of providing care. The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's found 60% of the nation’s 15 million caregivers are women.
“Caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or a related disorder is extremely stressful,” said Linda Coppinger, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter’s South Jersey Regional Office. “We know it puts a huge emotional toll on women, who oftentimes are also taking care of the rest of the family as well as holding down a job.”
Almost half the caregivers who responded to a recent Working Mother Research Institute survey, Women and Alzheimer's Disease: The Caregiver's Crisis - designed with the assistance of the Alzheimer’s Association - reported feeling overwhelmed. More than half acknowledged the stress led to depression.
Coppinger points out there’s also a financial toll. Last year, 435,305 caregivers in New Jersey provided 495,725,694 in unpaid hours worth more than $6 billion. Across the country, caregivers’ families dig deep into their own pockets to pay for associated costs of care – paying about 60% of the $56,800 it costs to care for their loved one living with dementia, according to the Shriver Report.
Based on the Working Mother-Alzheimer’s Association survey results, the picture is projected to only get worse: As the number of people with Alzheimer’s grows, so will the number of caregivers – to an estimated 45 million, by 2050. The Alzheimer’s Association further projects families’ out-of-pocket health care contributions will soar by 400%, as Alzheimer’s healthcare costs grow to $1 trillion from the current $183 billion.
“This disease has reached crisis proportions, and we need a cure fast, or at least better treatments, because far too many families are feeling like they’re sinking financially and emotionally,” said Coppinger.
Families who need help coping can turn to the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter, which provides free programs and services to as many as 300,000 individuals and their families throughout the Delaware-South Jersey-Southeastern Pennsylvania region who are touched by dementia.
“We have caregiver support groups, early stage initiatives, consumer education, and a very popular 24/7 Helpline, just to name a few,” said Coppinger.
Now, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has jumped on board – putting on the front burner, finding a cure or treatment and easing the burden for caregivers. In May, Secretary Sebelius announced the creation of the country’s first-ever National Alzheimer’s Plan. It funnels an additional $100 million to the $500 million in funding Alzheimer’s already receives for research, to create awareness and caregiver support initiatives.
“It’s definitely a first step in the right direction,” said Coppinger. “But in the meantime, our Chapter will continue to serve as a refuge for people coping with dementia symptoms, or those who care for them.”
To learn more about the Delaware Valley Chapter, call its HelpLine, toll-free at: 800-272-3900 or visit www.alz.org/desjsepa.
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization for support care and research. The Delaware Valley Chapter, headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, is the local arm of the national organization. Its South Jersey Regional office is located at 3 Eves Drive, Suite 310, Marlton, NJ 08053.
As seen in Burlington County Woman and Camden County Woman