News from the New England Journal of Medicine today finds that the cost of caring for people with dementia (including Alzheimer's) will more than double in the next couple of decades. That's because the nation's population is aging, and because the care can be expensive. Most of the estimated $215 billion dollars these diseases cost the economy can be chalked up to long term care.
Researchers included the cost of unpaid care - informal care, usually by a family member, in the home - in that total. But the value of that care can get a little lost in the bigger discussions of economic impact, Medicare, and national trends.
Right now, in Rhode Island, the Alzheimer's Association estimates that about 53,000 caregivers (family, friends) are providing 60 million (yes, million!) hours of unpaid care at an estimated value of $746 million dollars. That means thousands of spouses, children, siblings, friends, and others are helping the thousands of Rhode Islanders with varying stages of dementia or Alzheimer's do everything from bathing and toileting to keeping their loved one from wandering, to managing medications - and more.
If you're caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer's, or know someone who has, you know what a huge challenge it can be. You also know how expensive professional care can be and why there's sometimes no alternative to keeping someone at home and caring for him or her yourself.
Rhode Island is in the midst of drafting a statewide Alzheimer's plan, part of which is supposed to help address the needs of unpaid caregivers. We'll definitely report what they come up with. Whatever the plan, it's clear a state with one of the highest percentages of older people will need more social supports for family caregivers as well as more health care professionals trained in geriatrics.