Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease for the patient, their loved ones, and those who care for them. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is on the rise at a time when there is a caregiver shortage. That means more responsibility falls on family members as they do their best to navigate this disease and the needs of their loved ones.
Trends in Alzheimer’s
urrently, 5.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. While the progression of the disease differs from one person to another, all sufferers deal with some level of memory loss as well as the ability to care for themselves.
What is most troubling is that deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased by 55% between 1999 to 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In addition, more people with this disease are dying at home.
One reason for this increase is that the overall age of the U.S. population is increasing. Until recently, Baby Boomers were the largest segment of the population. They have now been outnumbered by Millennials.
New Treatments for Alzheimer’s
One team of scientists in Canada are working to develop treatments that can actually break through the protective wall surrounding the brain known as the blood-brain barrier. This would allow the development of technologies that could deliver drugs to treat Alzheimer’s directly to the brain. The downside is that once this protective barrier is pierced germs can also cross it. Research teams are faced with the challenge of discovering a way to allow drugs to cross the barrier while keeping harmful organisms out.
Another group of scientists at the Salk Institute are working on a way to grow human astrocytes which are a type of brain cell in a dish. If they are successful this will allow them to study Alzheimer’s in a whole new way.
The Toll Alzheimer’s Takes on Families
With a shortage of caregivers in the United States, more family members are taking on the responsibility of caring for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s. This can be especially difficult in the later stages of the disease when the patient cannot be left alone for even a short time period.
In addition, many of these family members also work full-time jobs and have children to care for, too. This is a perfect storm that can lead to burnout and feelings of being overwhelmed. One solution is to engage the help of a qualified, professional caregiver. One issue with this solution is the shortage of professional caregivers.
In fact, there will be a need for five million professional caregivers over the next seven years. Between now and 2024 an additional one million caregivers are needed. However, the population growth of women, who are the most traditional caregivers, will not keep up with that need.
With a lack of caregivers available, this leads to the possibility of fewer qualified caregivers available for Alzheimer’s patients and a possible increase in the death rate of these patients.
Also, family members who care for their loved ones will deal with more stress and additional stress related diseases which can lead to more issues for the long-term.
A shortage of professional caregivers and an increase in the number of Alzheimer’s patients is a tragedy waiting to happen. Add the stress that comes from caring for a loved one with the disease and the country is at a tipping point.