The other victims of Alzheimer's disease
| Sep 19, 2012
Too often in the recent past I’ve heard stories like this: An elderly couple are driving to their favorite restaurant of many years when the husband gets confused and endlessly drives in circles in a once-familiar area. Worried whether this is a one-time event or worse, the start of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the wife makes an appointment with their family doctor.
As I reflect on my own family and friends I realize how many people I know personally who are impacted by AD and unfortunately how this circle of people continues to grow.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in eight Americans over the age of 65 has AD. Currently that’s about 5.2 million people, but Baby Boomers turning 65 at a rate of about 8,000 a day for the next 18 years will likely cause a rapid increase in prevalence.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure, and available treatments only temporarily slow disease progression. While several drugs in development try to attack the plaque buildup in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s, they ultimately offer little to no help. As the industry continues its research, some researchers believe the key to slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s is preventive treatment of at-risk patients long before they show symptoms. But the questions remain: How do you predict who’s at risk, and will people without symptoms take preventive measures?
Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect the patient. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates there are 15 million unpaid caregivers in the United States, performing tasks ranging from providing transportation to bathing and dressing to managing finances to supervising their loved one to avoid injury. The unintended consequence of caring for an AD patient can be measured in terms of incremental burden.
As part of the Kantar Health Alzheimer’s Disease Syndicated Study, we’ve measured the impact of being an AD caregiver.
First, caregivers spend on average 60 hours a week providing care, leaving little to no time for a paying job. Second, many caregivers report having personal health issues such as difficulty sleeping, frequent headaches and anxiety. Additionally, compared to the US national average, caregivers have not only a lower physical quality of life but also a clinically lower mental quality of life. These issues will remain unresolved while caregivers ignore their own health to focus on a loved one.
It’s becoming more evident that younger generations will care for an aging family member in the future, whether the patient has AD or another chronic condition. The pharmaceutical industry and other associations are beginning to recognize the growing importance of caring for the caregiver, and as a result we’re seeing an increase of access to resources, support and even advertising directly at caregivers, like the caregivers campaign launched by the AARP.
For more information on how caregiving affects the health of Alzheimer’s caregivers, see our infographic: Alzheimer’s disease places a significant burden on caregivers – physically, mentally and financially.