What is the first thing you think of when you hear Alzheimer’s disease? Is it the scene from The Notebook where Allie suddenly remembers Noah is her husband, but minutes later is startled and confused when he calls her darling? Is it your beloved Grandmother forgetting your name at the last family party? Is it a family member, who has completely lost sense of who they are?
While some of these are accurate depictions of the disease, many people fail to understand what Alzheimer’s actually is. For diagnosed individuals, it is so much more than a little memory loss. It is a fatal type of dementia, and the most common type, that robs families of their loved ones. Symptoms of the disease get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with thinking, eating, taking care of oneself and eventually living. If you have watched a loved one grapple with the severe outcomes of Alzheimer’s disease, you know the emotional pain and grief it can inflict on families.
The bleak reality is unless a cure is found, it is going to have a disastrous impact on all of us in some way. Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly one in every three seniors who die each year has Alzheimer’s or another related dementia. Without any way to prevent, cure or even slow down the progression, the number of people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s disease, could nearly triple from 5.5 million in 2017 to 16 million by 2050. These are not just statistics, these are people; our parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, who eventually lose their lives to this undignified disease.
Alzheimer’s disease not only takes a hold of the person diagnosed, but it also takes a massive toll on the families, caregivers, and friends of those with dementia, who are at the center of this devastating crisis. In Illinois alone, there are 588,000 people providing over 670 million hours of unpaid care to someone with Alzheimer’s disease. The cost of this care is valued at more than $8 billion. Dementia caregivers tend to provide more extensive care for longer durations than those who serve older adults in other conditions. The effects of being a family caregiver, are generally negative, with high rates of social isolation, psychological difficulty, and financial hardships – leaving caregivers vulnerable to further emotional and physical grief.
Having a place for all those affected by Alzheimer’s disease to turn for information, care and support can drastically improve the quality of life for all involved. At the Alzheimer’s Association, we are constantly working to end Alzheimer’s disease, so families no longer have to bare the burden of losing a loved one. Until that day comes, we strive to provide support and resources to those affected to make their journey a little easier.
As we move further into 2018, we encourage communities across Illinois to help eliminate this devastating disease. It’s a disease that could affect you, but if we rally together, we can achieve a world without Alzheimer’s in the future.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, or to get involved with the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter, visit alz.org/illinois, call 309-681-1100 or visit the Peoria office at 614 W. Glen Avenue.