Recently, a few of my colleagues and I were invited to a screening for the new documentary, Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts. This film highlighted just how unprepared we are as a society for the impact of Alzheimer’s disease. This impact is on caregivers, hospitals and the economy! It’s potential is only growing as the Baby Boomer Generation continues to retire and age.
One highly discussed example included the state of New Hampshire’s shortage of skilled nursing facilities to care for the elderly population. This shortage is the result of a 1996 moratorium on nursing home beds, intended to limit the state’s Medicaid spending. Twenty-one years later the negative effects of this bill are now quite prominent. Those residents living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are being forced to remain at home alone as the disease progresses. The disease impairs their judgment and decision making skills, causing a number of potential issues ranging from care and nutrition to safety and finances.
This event also gave us the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion led by NPR personality Arun Rath. Panel members included the documentary’s executive producer Gerry Richman, as well as Greg O’Brien, author and person living with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, his wife Mary Catherine O’Brien and their physician Dr Rudolph Tanzi.
The discussions delved into just how financially unprepared we are as a country for the rise of Alzheimer’s Disease. It became clear that we don’t do enough preventive screenings like we do for some cancers and heart disease. We are waiting too long, waiting until a person starts to show symptoms before we start treating the symptoms of this disease. By then it is just too late.
“One in five dollars of Medicaid money goes towards Alzheimer’s,” Dr Tanzi stated, “and in 30 years that number will rise to one in three.” We are headed down a dark path if funding and research do not rise to the occasion.
Dr. Tanzi also highlighted four important ways to keep a person’s brain healthy, which included eight hours of sleep, a mediterranean diet, plant-based probiotics, and exercise.
As a professional in the assisted living industry, working everyday with residents living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, I see first hand the impact of cognitive impairments on the individuals as well as their families. If we could somehow identify the disease earlier, we could potentially reverse its symptoms. We need more education and awareness, and more Dementia Friendly type programs. We need to remind our members Congress that this is a problem that is only going to get worse, and ask them to help. We need to do more to build an understanding of this disease. The more advocates we can find, the more hope we can create.