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Alzheimer’s and Dementia By Cheryl Boswell

As a kid, the word senile was always associated with old people. Especially when they did something a little off-kilter, like walking around aimlessly or talking to themselves, they were often referenced as just being old and senile. Now, with better medical terminology and research, the words dementia and Alzheimer’s are used interchangeably to describe older people who have difficulties remembering things.

Dementia is kind of like the big picture word used to describe someone dealing with memory loss, problem-solving, language and other critical thinking skills. It’s a symptom of Alzheimer’s. I think it’s a nicer word than senile or senility. Most people with early stages of dementia still drive cars and live normal lives. Alzheimer’s is a type of degenerative brain disease and gets worse over time. With Alzheimer’s, eventually, the nerve cells that enable a person to do certain functions, like walking, talking, eating, and even swallowing, stop working. The person impacted with late stages of Alzheimer’s will eventually require 24-hour care. I picture Alzheimer’s as someone’s memory slowly being wiped away with a big eraser. On some days, more memory is erased than others. On other days, everything is left intact and working perfectly.

Age, genetics, and family history are some of the common risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s dementia. A recent study related to dementia and Alzheimer’s almost stopped me dead in my tracks. Not sure if it was because I fell into some of the statistical categories or if it was the number of people projected to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In 2020 an estimated 5.8 million people age 65 or older were living with Alzheimer’s dementia. By 2025, three years from now, it’s projected that 7.1 million people that are 65 years or older will have Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association study went on to say that 28 years from now, by the year 2050, it is projected that 13.8 million people in America, 65 or older, will have Alzheimer’s dementia. That is a significant number of people in terms of population in this country. Thinking back on how older people in nursing homes were cared for during the height of the pandemic, these numbers terrify me.

I worry about how the medical and social field will meet the demand of caring for this growing number of people who are or will be living with Alzheimer’s. These are the people that worked in their careers for 30 and 40 years. They paid into social security for medical care. Now, because of politics, that pre-paid care may no longer be available for them. Because many politicians want to do away with social security.

Many people with or without dementia want to grow old and live out their lives in the home they are familiar with. Studies indicate people that receive help at home, maintain positive family interactions and social interactions tend to live longer. That decision to finish their lives in their own home and not in a facility requires planning that includes some type of caregiving services. While most of the care given to seniors is provided by family members, about 65% of caregivers are women. They are moms who are sandwiched between taking care of their children and working full-time jobs.

Planning and thinking about what our personal needs are or will be in 20 years is difficult. We must be responsible for getting our own house in order. Maybe the first step is thinking about what kind of help is needed to remain independent. If you are 39 or 40 years of age, the year 2050 is not that far away. Being futuristic and thinking like the Jetsons with our planning thoughts is not a bad place to start.