MetLife's Survey on Alzheimer's Offers 5 Important Lessons
People increasingly are reporting that they're afraid of Alzheimer’s disease, but they don’t really know that much about the disease. That’s according to a new survey entitled “What America Thinks: The MetLife Foundation Alzheimer’s Survey” produced by the MetLife Foundation in conjunction with Harris Interactive.
Here are five key takeaways that I'd suggest, based on the survey results:
- More awareness and education about Alzheimer’s is needed. The MetLife Survey found that Alzheimer’s has become the second most feared disease among American adults. When asked about which of five major diseases they were most afraid, 41% of survey participants said cancer, 31% said Alzheimer’s, 8% said heart disease, 8% identified stroke and 6% worried about diabetes. Furthermore, 23% of adults said they were extremely concerned or very concerned that they may have to provide care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s in the future; this response is an increase from 18% in 2006. However, 62% of participants said they knew little or nothing about Alzheimer’s disease.
- Americans need more information about planning for Alzheimer’s. The study found that fewer than one in five people (18%) have developed a plan that may involve care options, housing arrangements and/or financial planning.
- Families need to have more conversations about what options are available for a loved one who may have a history of Alzheimer’s in the family or who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. The MetLife survey found that only 41% of all adults who were surveyed have talked to their families about Alzheimer’s. Yet those conversations can be really helpful. In fact, I wish our family had more of those conversations. All I ever heard was Mom’s demand not to be put into a nursing home (which unfortunately became unavoidable due to her Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Her wish, instead, was that if she started exhibiting signs of dementia, I should take her to the desert and just let her walk away. That’s not at all helpful for a caregiver to use as guidance. I really believe an honest, albeit painful family conversation would have been much more helpful when this disease struck.
- Take the long-term view about care and caregiving in considering Alzheimer’s. Thirty-three percent of survey respondents have considered available care options for Alzheimer's and 44% have designated who would care for them. Those people are way ahead of our family and I salute them for being proactive. We had our first close call it two years before she had to be placed in a nursing home with Alzheimer's. At that point, Mom, showing signs of mild cognitive impairment, signed the legal health care documents. Frankly, I believe these decisions should be made far earlier in a person's life and the ramifications (such as "do not resuscitate" orders) should be discussed by family members before a health crisis occurs. And in another example, our family never discussed how to take care of Mom, which left us scrambling when her undiagnosed Alzheimer's progressed to a point where Dad couldn’t handle her health issues or her actions caused by the dementia. I finally stepped in, even though I lived more than nine hours away from my parents, when Mom’s health issues became life-threatening. That decision fractured our family for a while since Dad had to return to West Texas to prepare to move to the city where I (and now Mom) lived, but it ended up being the only way to get a handle on the situation. In retrospect, I wish we had been able to make a more thoughtful and well-planned move so that both my parents came at the same time to live closer to me, but that wasn't in the cards.
- Make proactive financial decisions for the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s. The MetLife survey found that slightly more than one in five adults has made financial arrangements in preparing for the possibility of having this disease. To his credit, my dad would have been one of them. Alzheimer’s does not run in his side of the family, but it definitely does on Mom’s side. Therefore, Dad took out the proper type of long-term care insurance that helped offset the costs associated with Mom’s care. That decision is one of the best he has made financially. And it’s one that you should consider as well if you or a loved one is at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s good that people are becoming increasingly aware of this terrible disease, but it’s time for them to step up and learn more. Hopefully, they’ll seek out additional information through websites such as HealthCentral's and key advocacy groups. Knowledge is definitely power in this case and can help individuals and families make wise caregiving decisions.