We have a major health crisis in our country. It’s called Alzheimer’s disease. Along with other forms of dementia, it is killing hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, heavily burdening our already strained healthcare system, and causing major financial and emotional difficulties for caregivers.

As an elder care and estate planning attorney, I see many of my clients and their families face the impact and often harsh realities of dementia diseases. The long-term care, financial planning, and other factors play significant roles in the futures of people with dementia and their families.

The prevalence of the diseases in our society is mind boggling. Recently, Dr. Rebecca Edelmayer, Director of Scientific Engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association, was invited to make a presentation in Ventura County by the Alzheimer’s Women’s Initiative of the Alzheimer’s Association. She shared how the disease has been exploding and is already a national crisis that must be addressed in some form by all of us.

Dr. Edelmayer is a leading expert in Alzheimer’s research science and education and she shared many updated statistics that point out the severity of the impacts of dementia on many fronts. She is confident that we will someday soon be able to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. She said, “We are a leading supporter of several of the ongoing Alzheimer’s prevention trials. How quickly we get there is directly related to the size of the commitment to Alzheimer’s research.”

Similar to progress accomplished with heart disease and other major illnesses, the Alzheimer’s Association envisions future “therapies that combine drugs and lifestyle interventions.” Dr. Edelmayer believes the field is making significant advances, but stresses there remain a number of actions that are paramount.

She says, “We must invest in basic research to learn more about the causes and progression of the disease, continue and expand research on more effective treatments for those living with Alzheimer’s, and encourage efforts to support life-long healthy habits, especially those that relate to brain health and reducing risk of cognitive decline.”

Nationwide, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are one of the leading causes of disability and the sixth most frequent cause of death. The California Department of Public Health reports that Alzheimer’s is the third leading cause of mortality in the state with Ventura County showing the fastest increase in diagnosed cases.

Age is the most significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s and, as the population gets older, the problem only magnifies. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia every 65 seconds. With some 5.7 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s, it is estimated that the dementia population will more than double to 14 million by 2050.

Between 2000 and 2015, deaths from heart disease dropped 11 percent, but deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 123 percent. Further, one in three seniors will die from some form of dementia, killing more people than breast and prostate cancer combined.

Nationally, the costs of caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are in the neighborhood of $277 billion. By 2050, the amount could rise to $1.1 trillion. Early and accurate diagnosis of the disease could save an estimated $7.9 trillion in medical and care costs.

Sadly and amazingly, only 45 percent of those with dementia or their caregivers are even aware of the disease. The patients are not being diagnosed properly or at all and, even when there is a diagnosis, physicians are too often reluctant to disclose it.

Early warning signs of memory loss, orientation difficulty, and other triggers must be better recognized by family and friends. Moreover, those in caregiver roles need to seek out help from professionals to get treatment for their charges, navigate an often confusing healthcare system, and plan for long-term services and support, as the disease progresses.

Aside from the immense costs for those with the disease, their caregivers shoulder an astounding financial and emotional burden. Dr. Edelmayer tells us that this year’s Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report showed, in 2017, the lifetime cost of care for a single dementia patient was $341,840, with 70 percent of this cost borne by affected families in out-of-pocket expenses. The value of unpaid care – the caregiver’s time – was estimated at $143,735.

The physical and emotional impact of dementia caregiving is further estimated at $11.4 billion in healthcare costs. And, finally, 27 percent of caregivers delayed or did not do things they should for their own health.

In our state alone, 1.6 million Californians provide unpaid care to family and friends living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. More than 60 percent of the caregivers provide 20 or more hours of care weekly. That’s a heavy load, especially considering they may have jobs and others to care for in their families.

We all must act to help stem this crisis. What can you do? Dr. Edelmayer says, “Fight to end Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias by staying informed, joining a research study, making a donation to help continue research, participate in an event or become an advocate.” For more information on Alzheimer’s and how you can help, call 800-272-3900 or go to www.alz.org.

For additional insights, mark your calendar for December 13, when neurologist Dr. Liliana Cohen will be speaking on “Alzheimer’s Research and the New Brain.” At the same meeting, Martha Shapiro with Senior Concerns will be presenting “Ahead of the Curve: Expanding the Options for Seniors and Family Caregivers.”

These free sessions will be held from 12 to 1 p.m. at the Janet Levett Chamber of Commerce Center, 600 Hampshire Road, Suite 202, Westlake Village. A light lunch and beverages will be served.

Space is limited. Interested parties can register at (805) 201-2552 or by e-mail to ClientCare@TerriHilliard.com.