Lynchburg, VA - It is a fatal and emotionally devastating disease and it has become an epidemic, with the potential to put our country in crisis. With the numbers showing that in less than 40 years the number of cases of Alzheimer's Disease will nearly triple, something has to be done to solve this problem. There aren't enough nursing homes, caregivers, or money to take care of the population. So is there anything we can do now to plan for the possibility that we may be among them? We can learn some lessons from those dealing with it now. Mary Baker kept her mother, Lolly, in her own home for as long as she could. Caregivers came in for a few hours each day. But when it became unsafe to leave her alone for even one minute, Mary got her into a memory care unit. Bishop Phillip Weeks tried a nursing home for his wife June, but it didn't last long. " I was told if I did that I would get more rest. I didn't. I was crying myself to sleep at night," says Weeks. He was going over there every day anyway to feed her meals and spend time with her. So after 10 days he brought her home, and hired caregivers to help bathe dress and feed her. The costs in either case are not cheap. "My tax write off last year was over 53-thousand dollars for home care. Can you imagine what we could do with 53-thousand dollars if we were okay?" Weeks asks. Geriatric Psychiatrist Dr. Peter Betz knows all too well the expense involved. "The last numbers I read for just the treatment of Alzheimer's Disease beyond all the other infirmaries that will come with life, you have to have saved up about a quarter of a million dollars. And that is a substantial amount of money," says Betz. Sue Friedman, President and CEO of the Central Virginia Alzheimer's Association says it is bankrupting families. "Do families have the funds? I mean currently the monthly fee for a memory unit a secure unit 7, 8, 9 thousand dollars a month." And with the numbers showing a projected tripling of the population 65 and older expected to develop some form of dementia, it is so important to start planning now. Medicaid does NOT cover anything but medical needs-- prescriptions or hospitalization. Long term care insurance does, but that's not cheap either. "Generally the earlier you start long term care insurance the less expensive the premium is, but then you're paying for it for more years," says Friedman. But there may be a way to need it for fewer years. Today there is nothing you can do to prevent Alzheimer's Disease, but more and more research is pointing to ways to delay its onset. Friedman says one main theme'heart healthy is brain healthy.' "The one thing that is proven by research is exercise. So whether you're 25 44 or 79, you better be exercising at least three times a week at least 40 to 45 minutes at a time. Exercise is proven to delay Alzheimer's Disease." Obesity is another risk factor for the disease. Dr. Betz believes there's a direct correlation between the rising epidemic of obesity and the rising number of Alzheimer's cases. "I'm very convinced that it is related to the fact that we are not eating very well that our cholesterol is less controlled than it had been before that our population is getting larger and larger as we get older, and less fit." And what you eat could help stave it off. "The best diet that we're able to identify is the Mediterranean Diet and that's not just by some conjecture of trying to sell a particular product but by the data that we have in the literature, but a very close approximation would be a diabetic diet," says Betz. Friedman says other ways to delay itsocial interaction, whether it be online, on the phone, or in person. And take time to exercise your brain as well as your body- make it part of your daily routine. Read challenging books, play brain games. Friedman suggests it opens new pathways in your brain should one get blocked. "The brain needs to be kept flexible in its plasticity it's called. So if someone has been doing crossword puzzles for 40 years so they think they're safe. No. Switch to another kind of puzzle. Learn a new instrument. Learn a language, earn to swim learn how to dance. Do something new learn something new." Mary Baker's mom, Lolly, may be living proof. She was a highly active and outgoing woman, running her own business until she was 87. She didn't start showing symptoms until she was 92. Lolly also made it easy on her daughter. While she was still of sound mind, she gave her the power of attorney for both medical and financial decisions, had a living will drawn up, an advanced directive. Mary says it made her think about her own daughter. She admits it was a conversation she'd been putting off, but says it's one that's crucial you have, both with your aging parents, and with your own family, before it's too late. "And I think the big thing with my daughter who is now 50 is being able to open the dialogue. To be able to talk about it to be able to say this is what I want or this is what I think you're going to need to do," she says. Then there's the gene test. Is it something that would be helpful? Experts say it's a personal choice, but they don't recommend it. "Until we really know more about what, if you will,, turns the disease on, the genetic testing really doesn't give us a lot of good information," says Friedman. It doesn't tell you you're definitely going to get it, and even if it did what good would it do you to know? There's no way to prevent it, there are no drugs to cure it, it could cause you a life of distress. Not to mention it could be used against you on things like long term care insurance. The bottom line is, you need to prepare anyway, until the day comes when researchers find a way to both reverse Alzheimer's Disease, and prevent it. At 72, Mary Baker doesn't believe she'll see a solution in her lifetime, but she sure hopes her 50 year old daughter sees a different world, because the pain and suffering that this disease causes has to end. "I cannot express how emotionally stressful it is," Baker says. "There are no words to say that you just have to live it to understand it and many can say it but you just can't really express it." We've compiled a number of resources for you, including more on the Mediterranean Diet, links to legal documents, caregiving information, brain games and more. Click HERE for Alzheimer's Resources Links.Click HERE for Support Groups for Caregivers.
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