November is Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, spotlighting a disease that affects over 5 million Americans. Alzheimer's Disease diagnoses are growing at an exponential rate, and treating it is one of the costliest efforts in our health care system. Early detection not only improves quality of life, but also can massively reduce the costs associated with treating Alzheimer's Disease.
The Facts About Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's Disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior that impede daily functioning. It accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases, and its rates are steadily increasing:
Every 65 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer's Disease. This is expected to increase to every 33 seconds.
By 2050, nearly 14 million Americans are expected to have Alzheimer's Disease.
Around 200,000 Americans under 65 have early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's Disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
1 in 3 senior citizens dies with some form of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
Deaths from Alzheimer's disease have increased 123 percent since the year 2000. During this time, all other major disease death rates decreased.
While some memory impairment is part of the normal aging process, Alzheimer's is not. Incidence rates increase with age, and while the majority of people with this disease are age 65 and older, its impact is disproportionate, especially on those who have it, as well as their loved ones and caregivers:
The cost of all forms of dementia reaches $270 billion each year in the U.S.
Early and accurate Alzheimer's diagnosis could save up to $7.9 trillion in medical care and costs.
Over 18 billion unpaid labor hours are spent yearly on dementia caregiving.
70 percent of the lifetime cost of caring for someone with dementia is borne by families.
Out-of-pocket spending for dementia caregivers is nearly twice as high as that of other caregivers.
Dementia caregivers pay over $11 billion in increased health care costs from the physical and emotional impact of caregiving.
Mild Alzheimer's Disease - Early Stage
In the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease, a person may still be able to function independently, able to drive, work, and be a part of social events and activities. The person may feel as though they are having memory lapses, including symptoms like:
- Short term memory loss.
- Problems finding words, or remembering names.
- Trouble remembering new information, such as remembering the names of people who you were just introduced to.
- Challenges performing tasks in social or work settings.
- Trouble remembering material that was just read.
- Losing and/or misplacing a valuable, every day object.
- Increased difficulty with planning or organizing.
Although the onset of Alzheimer's Disease cannot yet be stopped or reversed, an early diagnosis allows the person to have an opportunity to live well with the disease for as long as possible, and to plan for the future.
Moderate Alzheimer's Disease - Middle Stage
Typically the longest stage, this can last for many years and will require a greater level of care and assistance performing everyday tasks, such as: paying bills, cooking, or driving, but they still may remember important details about their life. Symptoms in this stage will be noticeable, and include:
- Forgetfulness of events or one's own personal history.
- Feeling withdrawn or moody, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations.
- Inability to recall familiar information: address, telephone number, high school or college that they graduated from.
- Confusion about where they are.
- Inability to recall what day it is.
- Inability to dress properly for an occasion, event, or season.
Incontinence in some individuals.
- Changes in sleeping habits or patterns: sleeping throughout the day, and feeling restless at night.
An increased risk of wandering and becoming lost.
- Changes in behavior and personality: suspiciousness; delusions; compulsive and repetitive behavior, such as hand-wringing or tissue shredding.
Severe Alzheimer's Disease - Late Stage
The final stage of this disease can be difficult to witness, as individuals may need around the clock care and assistance. Patients may lose the ability to respond to their environment, carry on a conversation, and control movement. As memory and cognitive skills continue to worsen, individuals experience significant personality changes. Symptoms in this stage include:
- Losing awareness of recent experiences.
- Losing awareness of their surroundings.
- Changes in physical abilities, such as the ability to walk, sit, and swallow.
- Changes in mood, such as consistent paranoia, anger, aggression, confusion, and depression.
- Increased difficulty communicating, especially regarding pain. Individuals may still say words or phrases.
- Becoming susceptible to infections, specifically pneumonia.
Late-stage care decisions can be emotionally, financially, and physically demanding for the individual and the caregiver. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the stages of Alzheimer's, there is help. Your local Alzheimer's Association chapter will connect you with all of the resources that you need to cope with the challenges and symptoms of this disease.