Alzheimer's: A Baby Boomer Epidemic
Continued from previous page
Seventy percent of people with Alzheimer's live at home, cared for by family and friends. There are nearly 10 million Americans providing 8.4 billion hours of unpaid care to people with Alzheimer's disease or other dementias - valued at $89 billion. And believe it or not, there are getting to be almost as many kids actually "babysitting" a grandparent with Alzheimer's at home as kids babysitting children. That's where we are. Of course, most of the unpaid care-giving is done by women -- but luckily, that's also changing. Increasingly, men are stepping up to the plate.
Which brings me back to my brothers. I am in awe of what they do. My brothers take my Dad out to the Orioles games. They sit and joke with him, talk guy-talk to him. They take him to their kids' piano recitals and basketball games. Former Peace Corps volunteers will see him, know he has Alzheimer's, and still come up to him. They take his hand, and tell him stories. It doesn't matter that he doesn't know who they are -- or that he doesn't even remember the Peace Corps. What matters is that I know for sure he's comforted by the warmth of the human connection. I know that all in all, my family is one of the lucky ones. We're truly blessed we're able to keep our Dad at home. We're blessed to have the resources to pay patient and loving caregivers, who help us take care of our Dad and make him feel loved. I'm in awe of them, too. But millions of others aren't as lucky. Many are forced to quit jobs to stay home -- or go through the wrenching process of sending the parent away to a facility -- feeling judged and mortified and ashamed that they can't care for their loved one themselves. For so many, the financial, emotional, and spiritual cost is too much to bear.
My hope is that as the veil is lifted, as information and funds are available, they'll see that they're not alone -- that there's nothing to be ashamed of, that there's hope out there, because we're finally making Alzheimer's a national issue. We have to put Alzheimer's on the front burner, or it will not only devour our memories -- it will cripple our families, devastate our health care system, and decimate the legacy of our generation.
At the age of 93, my Dad still goes to Mass every day. And believe it or not, he still remembers the Hail Mary. But he doesn't remember me...Maria. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that that still makes me cry. But even so -- in the past 6 years, I have gone from hopelessness to hope. I have hope, because things are changing.
I've seen inter-generational day care centers where toddlers and Alzheimer's patients spend the day together. They eat together, they dance together, and have story-time together. It's quite moving to behold.
And we're building inter-generational playgrounds in California, so Sandwich Generation people like me -- who are taking care of kids and parents -- can go to one place with both of them.
I've also gotten hope from my own children. I watch how they talk and laugh with my father. They don't get bogged down in the sadness. My kids and my nieces and nephews all accept my Dad for who he is today -- and that's been a lesson for me.
I have hope because public hearings on The Hill -- high-profile work like the Alzheimer's Study Group report -- TV shows and books...are bringing Alzheimer's out of the back room and into the living room of our nation.