Dementia is a thief that robs elderly citizens of their ability to communicate effectively and carry out routine daily activities such as dressing, feeding, and bathing. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, but there are approximately 50 different disorders that can cause dementia including strokes, infections, and medication irregularities. There are many different behaviors manifested in Alzheimer’s patients ranging from forgetfulness to aggressiveness to inappropriate sexual conduct. While it is truly sad to see any person impacted in such a negative manner from a cognitive and physical standpoint, we must realize this disease also effects families and not just the individual. In most cases a family member cares for a loved one with Alzheimer’s at home with a minimal amount of support. Since the disease gets progressively worse as time goes on, the intensity of care also increases proportionately until keeping the person effected at home is no longer a realistic option.
The physical demands can become so overwhelming that the results can be chronic fatigue, ill health, or even hospitalization for the caretaker or family member. This only exacerbates an already volatile situation and ultimately neither the person with Alzheimer’s or the caretaker benefits. In addition, the emotional toll on family members can also become a tremendous burden if not addressed in a healthy and open manner. Support groups are a popular form of encouragement and education for family members who are also serving as the primary caretaker. These groups allow members to share experiences, and even more important, provide an outlet to socialize with others in similar circumstances.
It is somewhat disappointing that more information regarding Alzheimer’s is not in the mainstream media. While millions of families suffer in silence, the numbers continue to increase as more people continue to be diagnosed with this insidious disease. Moreover, the number of younger patients with early onset Alzheimer’s is also on the rise. While the typical age for diagnosing Alzheimer’s is 80 years old, today doctors are seeing people as young as 45 with early signs of dementia. The potential costs to society are enormous, as more and more young adults are being diagnosed during their most productive years. The impact on families and communities could have far reaching consequences resulting in increased health care costs over longer periods of time. For families with minor children still living at home, having a parent diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s effects social and emotional development and places family dynamics under an incredible amount of stress. Given aging populations worldwide, continued research and commitment towards the treatment, and ultimately a cure, for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are essential.