Last week, the Alzheimer’s Association released its 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report. The numbers are heading in the same direction they typically do— up.
According to the report, 5.7 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease and a new person develops the disease every 65 seconds, a second sooner than in 2017. Projections show that 7.1 million Americans aged 65 and older will have Alzheimer’s by 2025, rising to about 13.8 million by 2050. Alzheimer’s is still the sixth leading cause of death, a ranking I personally feel does not tell the real story. A 2014 study published by the American Academy of Neurology suggests that if causes of death were appropriately recorded and attributed, Alzheimer’s would be the third leading cause of death in America behind heart disease and cancer. It is also worth noting that it is the only top 10 cause of death in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
Sadly, Alzheimer’s continues to affect women in higher numbers, both in terms of who gets the disease and in terms of unpaid caregiving efforts. Women make up 66 percent of people living with Alzheimer’s and approximately two-thirds of caregivers are women; more specifically, over one-third of dementia caregivers are adult daughters. Around one-quarter are "sandwich generation" caregivers — meaning that they care not only for an aging parent but also for children under age 18. Understandably, this creates an overwhelming caregiving responsibility and life balance.
The good news is that Alzheimer’s disease and the burden on caregivers are becoming part of the national conversation. The government is taking notice of these alarming numbers and developing programs and care plans for the millions currently living with the disease and the 16.1 million Americans providing unpaid care. Earlier this year, President Trump signed the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act. This law addresses the needs of family caregivers and requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop, maintain and implement a strategy that supports family caregivers over the next three years.
In February, I joined fellow Alzheimer’s disease advocates and Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Catherine Cortez-Mastro (D-NV) in Washington D.C. as the Alzheimer’s Association launched a new set of dementia care practices that focus on a person-centered approach to care. Memory care providers across the country are adopting the recommendations and elevating dementia care across the board.
While the latest facts and figures are daunting, I am comforted by the dedicated work from the Alzheimer’s Association, Congress and memory care providers like Brookdale. The only way to combat this disease and the toll it takes on our communities is to take action. The silver lining is that we are finally doing just that.