There are more than 1.2 million Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers in the state. In 2010, these caregivers provided 1.38 million hours of unpaid care valued at nearly $16.5 billion, according to a study released this week by the Alzheimer’s Association.
Only eight other states in the nation have unpaid caregiver contributions exceeding $6 billion.
Stephani Stoke, Alzheimer’s Association area director, said these caregivers are primarily family members and friends of those with Alzheimer’s, as well as health care workers who volunteer their time. The cause is likely the economic downturn coupled with the high prices of care from nursing homes and home health care providers. But this high number of unpaid care givers has negative effects of its own as well.
Stoke explained that often these caregivers have to leave their full time jobs to focus on care giving, bringing financial strain now from a different source. They also endure the emotional stress that comes with the constant responsibility.
Stoke said these caregivers often take care of patients in the early stages of the disease.
“With the early stages of Alzheimer’s, many people do not qualify for a nursing home,” she explained.
The study also showed that Alzheimer’s strains the economy by placing a larger burden on Medicaid. The average per-person Medicaid payments for beneficiaries 65 and older with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are nine times higher than Medicaid payments for those without the disease.
Currently, Medicaid costs are $37 billion and they’re expected to increase by almost 400 percent by 2050.
Study authors said they feared the Alzheimer’s crisis would only further strain already struggling state budgets.
An estimated 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, a disease in which the brain cells degenerate and die, causing declines in memory and mental function. Of those, 340,000 live in Texas.
“People are living longer, so we’re seeing an increase,” Stokes said.
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s or a specific prevention, there are medications that can help improve the quality of life for an Alzheimer’s patients. These medications work for a time and can help improve brain function.
Stoke said the best thing you can do for an Alzheimer’s patient is catch the disease early, so they can begin receiving treatment as soon as possible. Look for early warning signs, she suggested.
“Don’t dismiss them as ‘Oh that’s just Mom’,” she said.
Early detection and treatment can help improve the quality of life for the patient and their loved ones.
“It doesn’t just affect one person,” she said.
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Source: Alzheimer’s Association
2011 Facts and Figures.