What AT LEAST 50% of Us Need to Know

The statistics are sobering. Yet, as my momma used to say to us, ‘it is never a ‘big deal’ until it happens to you’. How true this is.

For years, we visited our great aunts, uncles and paternal grandparents in nursing homes (yes, we had 7 in assisted living and/or nursing homes simultaneously). We often would see individuals suffering from memory loss and living lives of virtual vacuousness staring into oblivion (ironically our relatives did not have dementia). It was (and is) heart wrenching. This loss of memory was once denoted as just ‘old age’ or in severe cases ‘dementia’, even though the very first case of this horrible disease called Alzheimer’s was actually diagnosed and named in 1906. Yet, it was not considered a major disease until the 1970’s and as our population grows older….dementia, which Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, has become more and more prevalent.

Before you ‘log off’ and say this is not relevant to you….please take a moment. I would not be writing this article, which clearly falls outside my ‘leadership and alignment’ focus area, had I not been REQUESTED to do so by a number of my clients. Let’s face it, most of us will be faced with aging parents and associated hard realizations and decisions to be made (if we haven’t already).

Thus, I wanted to share a few sobering facts to anchor this discussion of one of the single most horrific diseases of our generation. My intent is to bring this to the forefront of the public eye, AND to offer a few suggestions for my readers. I speak from first hand experience, as my sister and I are currently traversing this terrifically sad and surreal path.

First, a few startling facts which jolted me – and I think will you, as well:

•  In 2018, 6 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s. And this will rise to 14 million within the next 25 years.
•  Two-thirds of those afflicted are women.
•  Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death. One in three (!!) people will die from Alzheimer’s  – more than Breast and Prostate Cancer COMBINED.
• Deaths from Alzheimer’s have risen 123% in the past five years.
• The costs of this disease are staggering. Approximately $232 BILLION is spent on caregivers ANNUALLY. And dementia and Alzheimer’s costs the nation ANNUALLY (these are 2018 numbers): $277 BILLION. Combine these numbers and it equates to OVER $500 BILLION annually. Got your attention yet?
• If that does not make it real enough to you, perhaps this will: the average expense (YOUR COST) to keep and care for someone suffering from this disease ranges minimally from $200,000 to $300,000 a year. And as a sickening reality – Long Term Care Insurance will pay for approximately 25% of that number….if you are lucky. I have harsh words for the ‘insurance system’ relative to this disease (and all healthcare, if you really want to know)…..frankly, it does little to help. An argument could be made for a self-insured approach – yet this is for another article.

So…that is the REALITY; and YES it will affect over 50% of us in our lifetime. 1 in 2 of us (at this point) will contract this disease….and these numbers are rising. What are our options?

First, it is not a curable disease; and the drugs to combat the effects have mixed results. If they ‘work’ they simply retard the inevitable. And the average duration of this disease is 3-4 years – and can last as long as 10-15 years. Do the math…..that is anywhere from on the ‘low side’ a $600,000 expense to well over $2,000,000 – and YES that is YOUR COST…..no one is going to help you with that. Thus, we are left with trying to prevent contracting the disease or managing the disease once the diagnosis has been made.  So, what can we do?

  1. Prevention is still being studied, yet worth researching. Evidence suggests that the DHA found in healthy fats may help prevent the disease by reducing beta-amyloid plaques. Food sources such as cold-water fish like as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, seaweed, and sardines are worth integrating into your diet. You can also supplement with fish oil. Eating a Mediterranean diet has also shown good results in studies. So, eating little red meat and focusing on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats is given. Avoid head trauma  – so wearing helmets when playing sports and avoiding sports which ‘hit the head’. Studies have also shown that several conditions known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease — such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol — also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Some autopsy studies show that as many as 80 percent of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease also have cardiovascular disease.  Now…..before we think ‘we have solved the problem’….let me share a sobering reality. This is not 100%. My mom, who is suffering from this insidious disease, swam and/or did water aerobics three times a week until she was 85 years of age. She and my daddy were poster examples of eating healthy. So – this is NOT a panacea for disease prevention. It can’t hurt….yet it is not 100%….of this we are certain.
  2. Seek help and support. There are many support groups and websites which can help. And talking with others is often the best way to get insight into neurological specialists, memory care facilities, caregiver referrals, etc. And no….the facilities and/or the caregivers are not all created equal. They require discernment and investigation. They cost money…..and yes, the best cost more. The best doctors can have waiting lists 6,8,10 months long….yes, that is hard to believe – yet, that is truth.
  3. Get comprehensive insurance policies (medical and long-term care) as best you can AND save in addition to this. Insurance, as mentioned before, will literally pay peanuts relative to the cost of the care required. We must have a healthy nest egg to have the best care at home or in a place of your choosing….or realize you may end up in a facility not as desirable as hoped. (Net: not a good place.) And yes….it does matter. Regardless of the ‘state’ you think your loved one is in – it MATTERS where they are, where they will spend their final days, and how they will be shown love, care, and attention.
  4. Take care of you. It is a known fact that this disease is very hard on the caregivers. Yes….that is SO ACCURATE. My body and soul has taken a beating the past 18 months, and I am finally getting ‘on top of this’ with a new regime. Meditate. Exercise EVERY day – even if a walk with your dog is all you can muster. Eat moderately and healthy. Minimize alcohol. Pray constantly – that connection with a higher power has been the buoy for me; AND find quality, well-researched, and highly referred caregivers to help you. Our caregivers have been GIFTS from God. There is simply NO WAY we would be able to provide this quality of life to our precious loved one were it not for round the clock angels – who work for us DIRECTLY – to support our situation. Words will never grasp our gratitude. These amazing individual are RARE and worth every penny.
  5. Save now. Yes, this is a constant comment I make to my followers. And yes….it can be hard. I get it. Yet, what I know for sure – is that most of us simply do not have enough to support a situation like this. So…..recognize the value of compound money (aka: saving NOW so that it can grow over time), the need for multiple revenue streams, and the reality that when support like this is needed – money is like a sieve – one can blow through it 3,4,5 times faster than expected. Trust me – we are living this.

So, again, I know this article is NOT my ‘norm’. Yet, life offers opportunities to share experiences and lessons as we live them; and I believe it is my sacred responsibility to share them. I hope this will give pause and thought…..we will ALL face similar situations and I hope this jolt will help us all get prepared.