By Paul Hogan
June 7, 2010
One trend that is sure to have an increasingly profound impact on families throughout America is the dramatic rise of Alzheimer’s disease. Nor will the corporate world escape this emerging crisis. A projected lack of resources could leave working family caregivers struggling to manage the all-consuming care of a loved one who is coping with this fatal diagnosis.
According to the recently released in the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2010 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report (www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_figures.asp?type=homepage), 5.1 million people in the U.S. aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. That number is expected to reach 7.7 million by 2030, more than a 50 percent increase.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and, at present, irreversible brain disorder that is characterized by a steady decline in cognitive, behavioral and physical abilities severe enough to interfere with everyday life and necessitate full-time care, according to industry experts.
As the disease progresses, physical problems may include loss of strength and balance, and diminishing bladder and bowel control. As more and more of the brain is affected, areas that control basic life functions, like swallowing and breathing, become irreversibly damaged, resulting eventually in death.
Family members who are caring for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia already face several challenges. First is the declining number of nursing facility beds (in dedicated special care units) in the U.S. That number decreased from 1,717,165 in June 2007 to 1,708,721 beds in December 2009. The number of beds in Alzheimer’s special care units went down even more dramatically during that time, from 90,285 to 83,796, according to the American Health Care Association (AHCA)
“Since almost half of nursing home residents in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s or other dementia, and only 5 percent of nursing home beds are in Alzheimer’s special care units, it is clear that the great majority of nursing home residents with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are not in Alzheimer’s special care units,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2009 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report (www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/alzheimers/Documents/report_alzfactsfigures2009.pdf).
The desire of seniors to remain at home could help explain the decreasing reliance of families on care communities and facilities. However, this trend leads to the second dilemma for seniors and their families. Most people are unprepared or unequipped with the skills to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s at home, particularly as the disease progresses.
As a result, family caregivers are often stretched to the limit, both physically and emotionally. More than 40 percent of family and other unpaid caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high, compared with 28 percent of caregivers of other older people, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2010 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report. About one-third of family caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia also have symptoms of depression, the report noted.
This kind of stress spills over into the workplace as well. Among people who have been employed while caregiving, most have had to make a workplace accommodation due to caregiving responsibilities (68 percent), according to the November 2009 report Caregiving in the U.S., A Focused Look at Those Caring for Someone Age 50 or Older (National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC)/AARP)(www.aarp/caregivingus). The most common workplace accommodation is going in late, leaving early or taking time off during the day (64 percent). This workplace accommodation has increased six percentage points since a similar study was conducted five years ago.
As with any dilemma, information, education and planning are key to helping families cope. One of the most disturbing findings of a research study my company recently conducted revealed that the majority of seniors and family caregivers have failed to think about, much less plan for, senior care. Fifty percent of seniors said they haven’t planned for their own futures.
That’s why it’s vital for businesses to be aware of these issues and be prepared to assist those who need to know more about caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association is the ultimate source for credible and up-to-date information about this disease.
Together we can help families faced with tough challenges make informed decisions.
Paul Hogan is co-founder and CEO of the Home Instead Senior Care network, the nation’s largest provider of at-home care for seniors and has served more than 400,000 clients through a network of 875 franchise offices in 14 countries and 15 markets. Hogan and his wife, Lori, are co-authors of “Stages of Senior Care: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Making the Best Decisions” (November 2009/McGraw Hill). For more information, go to www.stagesofseniorcare.com.