November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and also National Family Caregivers Month. It is so appropriate that these recognition events coincide, because according to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly 15 million Americans are caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or a related form of dementia.
A poll in the July 2012 issue of the Caring Right at Home newsletter revealed that 68 percent of the respondents are serving as primary caregiver or often provide assistance for a loved one with dementia. These people who do so much for their loved ones deserve our praise and support, not only for the care they provide, but also for the vital part they play in our nation’s elder care system.
Today, more than 5 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s disease. A thousand more are diagnosed each day. Across the nation, more nursing homes and assisted living facilities are serving the needs of these patients. Geared toward the well-being of people with dementia, many of these "memory care" facilities provide specialized, innovative programs.
Yet a recent study from Indiana University showed that people with Alzheimer’s disease and similar conditions are most likely to be living at home. Study author Dr. Christopher Callahan describes the typical pattern for a hypothetical dementia patient: "You probably won’t proceed on a straight line from home to hospital to nursing home. You will experience multiple transitions as you progress from mild to moderate to advanced dementia." The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, confirms that "a majority of care for those with dementia, even advanced dementia, is provided in the community by families."
Noting the importance of these family caregivers, healthcare policymakers are advocating for greater support for home-based care. A recent study by Brown University researchers showed that Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders (ADRD) cost the U.S. more than $183 billion per year. Said health economist Judith Bentkover, "It’s a real win-win if there can be research directed at ways to maintain people with ADRD at home and out of the hospital and keep them healthy and functioning for as long as possible. That’s where the real breakthroughs have to be made. It is especially before the patient is admitted into the nursing home or in the final stages of the disease that there is a great opportunity for economic savings."
Unnecessary hospitalizations for people with dementia cost families, Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies billions of dollars each year. These hospitalizations also can have a negative impact on the health of people with dementia. "Nonelective hospitalization of older people, particularly those with dementia, is not a trivial event," cautions Dr. Elizabeth A. Phelan, professor of gerontology at the University of Washington. Phelan and a research team from Seattle’s Group Health Research Institute describe the problem: Dementia makes it harder for patients to manage their other health conditions, which in turn makes it more likely that they will be hospitalized … and then the hospitalization itself puts these patients at risk of delirium, functional decline and other complications.
How can families ensure that their loved ones who have Alzheimer’s are experiencing the best health and highest possible quality of life? The first step is to learn about the support resources that are available. These include:
Legal and financial assistance to help patients and caregivers sort through issues such as Medicare and Medicaid eligibility, preparing advance directives, and creating durable powers of attorney for financial and health decisions.
Caregiver support, including respite care, wellness counseling, support groups, caregiver training and opportunities to learn more about their loved one’s conditions.
Geriatric care management to help families sort out the complexities of dementia care, and to coordinate services when family members live at a distance.
Community services for seniors at home, such as adult day care, respite care in a nursing home or other supportive living environment, meal delivery programs, and skilled nursing provided in the home.
In-home companion care. Professional in-home caregivers provide supervision and personal hygiene care in the comfort and safety of clients’ own homes. Look for a caregiver who is trained in dementia care and understands the behavioral changes that are part of the disease. Trained caregivers support the physical and emotional wellness of clients with dementia by providing:
- Medication management
- Nutrition and hydration
- Support for safe, appropriate physical activity
- Socialization and mental stimulation
- Housekeeping, laundry and removing fall hazards
- Transportation to healthcare appointments
- Nighttime supervision for clients with sleep disturbances
In-home care is just as beneficial for the health of family caregivers! Caregiving is stressful and physically taxing. Being mindful of their own well-being helps family build up their physical and emotional reserves, making them better caregivers for their loved one.
November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. The Alzheimer’s Association is the sponsor of this event. Their online Dementia Caregiver Center offers helpful information about the long-term and day-to-day challenges of dementia care.
Alzheimers.gov is the U.S. government portal providing information on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. The site includes practical information for caregivers.
For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.
Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care services.