November is both National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month. To me, celebrating family caregivers and dementia awareness together is appropriate.
Providing care to any vulnerable individual can bring untold rewards, especially when the care receiver is someone we love. Long-term caregiving can be physically and mentally exhausting, and frequently frustrating, as well. If the person we are caring for has dementia, we can often expect the difficulty of our caregiving journey to increase because the person may not understand their need for care or even recognize their care provider. He or she may be defensive, aggressive, prone to wandering, unable to sleep, fight bathing and/or refuse to take medications all because of the fear and anxiety that comes from not understanding one’s surroundings.
To add to the issues involved in caring for someone with dementia, there’s also the stigma that surrounds people with dementia or any mental or cognitive illness. Fear – maybe the fear that this could happen to them – can make many people judgmental and negative toward people with these types of illnesses.
One goal of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month is to work on erasing that stigma. Another goal is to remind people that funding is needed for research.
Statics on Alzheimer’s disease daunting
According to the National Alzheimer’s Association, in 2012, the direct costs of caring for those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias to American society will total an estimated $200 billion, including $140 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid.
Average per person Medicare payments for an older person with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are nearly 3 times higher than for an older person without these conditions. Medicaid payments are 19 times higher. These costs will only continue to soar in the coming years given the projected rapidly escalating prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease as the baby boomers age.
Unless something is done, the care costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias will soar from $200 billion this year to a projected $1.1 trillion (in today’s dollars) by 2050. This dramatic rise includes a 500 percent increase in combined Medicare and Medicaid spending.
While tradition leads us toward Thanksgiving this November, let’s not forget to celebrate family caregivers who save the nation untold millions by providing home care. Let’s also urge our political leaders to save the nation money in the long-run by dedicating funding to Alzheimer’s research now.