The New York Times (April 4, 2013) carried a front page article, “Dementia Study Predicts A Surge In Costs and Cases”.
Referencing a RAND study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the article went on to detail the staggering statistics that are now becoming evident as Boomers live longer. We are unprepared as a society to deal with the rise on the number of cases of Dementia.
The study results showed that 15% of people over the age of 71, about 3.8 million people, have dementia. By 2040, that 3.8 million number is expected to be 9.1 million.
“I don’t know of any other disease predicting such a huge increase,” said Dr. Richard J. Hodes, director of the National Institute of Aging, which financed the study. And as we have the baby boomer group maturing, there are going to be more older people with fewer children to be informal caregivers for them, which is going to intensify the problem even more.” This statement rarely gets discussed. Who will care for us? With less children, who are often living in other cities, will many of us face our final years living in physical and psychological isolation cared for by strangers in a “facility”?
The article outlines the economic impact of this Dementia wave.
What also needs to be addressed is the psycho-spiritual toll that impacts family members. Any one of us who has had to care for a loved one dealing with Dementia, including Alzheimer’s, knows that over and above the financial strain is the often overwhelming psychological stress that impact us. This also is rooted in a real fear that “this may be me in a few years”.
Slowly, as our generation ages and as we care for parents (and even spouses) who are afflicted with Dementia, the society is getting the message that it must pay attention to this reality. With no “cure”, we need to being to look at how a community can be supportive and caring. Faith communities as well are starting to become more aware of this issue. We have no choice since families are increasingly seeking advice and support from clergy.
Education about the challenges of Dementia needs to be increased as well as funding into research. Attention must be paid to this issue as, if the studies are correct, too many of us will be impacted. There is much more to come on this.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min.