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Helping families deal with another pandemic: Alzheimer’s disease

By CATHY BROWNFIELD

Family Recovery Center publicist

Mr. Biden’s recent remarks about Alzheimer’s has gained public attention. Conspiracy theorists have jumped on it. But the concept is not a new one. The need for answers was as great 20, 30 years ago or longer. We know more now, but there is still so much that we don’t know.

Mom has been gone for nearly 10 years. It is when you are looking back that you see the red flags and question how you could have missed them. The answer: The signs are subtle. And you don’t realize you should be looking for them.

My mother said she came out of work and found her car. But her surroundings did not look familiar to her. She wasn’t sure how to get home from that parking lot.

“So, how did you find your way home?” I asked.

“I followed all the other cars until I got where I recognized things,” she answered.

Dad called me on the phone. “Your mother went to Alliance by herself. I’m worried she might get lost.”

My mother knew her way around. She was the navigator when our family traveled in the truck and camper, the map reader. She’d gotten us well into Canada’s Algonquin Park and back again. She had gotten us to so many destinations and back home again. How could she get lost between home and Salem or Alliance or anywhere else in Columbiana County?

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that more than 6 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s right now. The disease kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. In fact, deaths from other chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease, have declined while the number of deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s has increased … 145 percent! One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

People with Alzheimer’s or other dementias have twice as any hospital stays as other older people. They have more skilled nursing facility stays and home health care visits per year than other people and are more likely to receive adult day care services and nursing home care, says Alzheimer’s Association.

Ohio statistics show that the number of people with Alzheimer’s in the state for 2020 is 220,000. By 2025 it is expected to be 250,000. There are 442,000 caregivers providing 590,000,000 hours of unpaid care.

The Alzheimer’s Association says that, “On average, people age 65 and older survive four to eight years after diagnosis yet some live as long as 20 years with Alzheimer’s…”

One in three caregivers is age 65 or older. Most are women, specifically daughters. Many of them are the “sandwich generation,” caring for elderly parents and children under age 18. There are many challenges for caregivers.

Black Americans are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s as older White Americans, but more than half believe that future care will not be equally shared. Older Hispanics are one and a half times as likely as White Americans to have dementia, but many of them do not believe they will live long enough to develop dementia.

The disease is an emotional wrecking ball, awful for the person who has it, but perhaps worse for those who provide the care for them and watch the decline of their loved one. “You learn to lie to them,” I was once advised. I couldn’t lie to my mother, but I did learn ways to word things that she accepted easily. (Well, I am a wordsmith.) The disease is difficult for families to navigate. When you add in trauma from other family issues, it becomes easy to be overwhelmed. You will get to the other side of things eventually, but in the meantime the struggle is real. And there are people who can help you find ways to cope.

Family Recovery Center helps families to find ways to navigate through the challenges we face. For more information about the agency’s treatment and education programs, contact FRC at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468, or email, info@familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded in part by the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.

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