Earlier this week, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) announced a specialized division dedicated to the increasing number of college students facing Alzheimer’s within their own families. According to a press release issued by the AFA, the new network – AFA on Campus – will educate college students across the country about Alzheimer’s disease and provide support services for them and their families.
This move is an acknowledgement of the growing strain placed upon families dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s. In 2008 alone, an estimated 10 million Americans – mostly family members – provided a staggering 8.5 billion hours of unpaid care to loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease, the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. As patients get older, the burden grows for caregivers. A recent survey showed that many Alzheimer’s caregivers want more support from within their families and beyond. But they’re reluctant to ask for it.
“They tend to say, ‘This is my parent or relative, and this is my responsibility,’” said one gerontologist. “Caregivers tend to believe they are bothering others.”
One of the most frightening Alzheimer’s issues is wandering. Sixty percent of Alzheimer’s patients wander away from their homes one or more times during their illnesses. But fewer than four out of 100 are able to return home without help.
“We live in a bolt-locked house,” said a woman who takes care of her stricken mother. “We have boards across the stairs. We have hung bells on the doorknobs.”
As of 2009, there were 5.3 million Americans with Alzheimer’s. While deaths from heart disease, stroke, breast and prostate cancer declined from 2000 to 2006, Alzheimer's deaths rose 47 percent.
"Alzheimer’s is a family disease,” said former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day
O’Connor, whose husband has Alzheimer’s and no longer recognizes her. “It may directly attack only one member of a family, but every family member feels the effects. Every family member loses something.”
Tell us what you think: If you’ve been responsible for the care of someone with Alzheimer’s, what have you sacrificed in the process? Will the AFA’s creation of a college network help families in the long run?(A portion of this story was previously published as “Alzheimer’s: A Family, or a Federal, Issue?” on The Responsibility Project on 4/9/09)