At age 92, Lulu Lancaster has lost most of her short-term memory.
Her children, Patty and Justin, have become her caregivers, and as Patty says, "We've had to kind of become her memory."
Caregiving for adults with Alzheimer's and other dementias is increasingly something that adults who have aging parents are faced with.
Some of the numbers, from the Alzheimer's Association:
- 5.3 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer's disease in 2015, most of them are 65 or older.
- Almost 2/3 of Americans with Alzheimer's are women.
- In 2014, friends and family of people with Alzheimer's and other dementias provided an estimated 17.9 billion hours of unpaid care, which is estimated to be worth $217.7 billion. That's almost eight times the total revenue of McDonald's in 2013.
- About 40% of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers suffer from depression
As a caregiver or concerned family member, what should you look for if you suspect Alzheimer's or other dementia?
Alzheimer's actually starts in the brain before there are any signs, so detecting it usually happens in the early or moderate stages. You can find some additional screening questions by visiting the Alzheimer's Association and AARP.
Here is some useful information on the various stages:
- Not being able to come up with some words or names
- Increasingly losing objects that are needed to function: keys, wallet, etc.
- Trouble planning or organizing things, trouble thinking ahead
- Forgetting the month or year
Typically the longest stage, it can last years. Some of the signs are:
- Confusing words, getting frustrated or angry, and refusing to perform routine tasks, such as bathing.
- Withdrawing from social situations because they're overwhelming
- Being unable to decide where they are or what day it is
- Increased risk of wandering off or getting lost
- Personality changes, like becoming suspicious, having delusions, becoming compulsive
- Inability to recall their phone number or address
- Inability to react or respond to their environment
- Losing the capability to carry on a conversation
- Eventually, an inability to control even muscular movements, such as those required to walk, sit, swallow, etc.
- At this stage, susceptibility to infection increases dramatically
People with late-stage Alzheimer's can even get confused about what time of day it is, sleeping during the day and being awake at night.
This is the stage that requires full-time care, 24/7, and that's why Patty and Justin became Lulu's caregivers.
However, this stage is also when family members can no longer be the primary caregivers, especially if they have their own familial demands or a job that doesn't allow time off.
It's also the time when caregiver burnout is a high risk; the emotional and physical toll can be too much.
Frequently, this is the time when the loved one must be moved to full-time care, such as a nursing home or a facility for memory care or alzheimer's.
For someone like Lulu, having her son and daughter around to help navigate this time in her life is priceless.
The bond that she shares with her children is becoming ever more solid as they go through it with her. Listen to their story: