15 million people caring for 5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers: U.S. report card

According to a report released on Tuesday by the Alzheimer's Association, nearly 15 million Americans are now caring for a family member or friend with Alzheimer's disease or related dementias. The Association warns that these figures may rise if new therapies for Alzheimer’s are not found.

The report adds that 80% of Alzheimer's care provided at home is delivered by family members. Fewer than 10 percent of older adults receive all of their care from paid workers. At least 60% of these caregivers are female and unpaid. These caregivers are older than 55, married, have less than an college degree and at least 70% are white. Many caregivers who are employed have shifted to part time jobs due to their care giving responsibilities. Care givers themselves suffer from stress and anxiety and may often become “secondary patients” says the report. In all the physical and emotional impact of caring for someone with Alzheimer's and other dementias could cost the United States an additional $7.9 billion in health costs.

The 2010 Alzheimer’s disease figures are 5.3 million. It is estimated to climb to 5.4 million Americans in 2011. By 2030, the number of people aged 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease is estimated to reach 7.7 million -- a 50 percent increase from the current 5.2 million. Nearly two-thirds of all Americans living with Alzheimer's are women.

“It’s too much of a job for any one person,’’ said Dr. William Thies of the Alzheimer’s Association. Those caregivers provide 17 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at more than $202 billion. Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells progressively, making it difficult for patients to think, remember, and function. The time it takes to decline because of the ailment varies from five or six years to more than two decades, Thies said. Each person with Alzheimer’s disease generally has three caregivers, Thies noted.

Beth Kallmyer, the senior director of constituent services for the Alzheimer’s Association advises that caregivers should build a plan for the Alzheimer’s patient early, when that person can still help. Those helpers should remember to go to the doctor themselves, and ask for assistance when they feel overwhelmed, she said.

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