The New York State Office for the Aging recognizes June as Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month by encouraging older adults, their family members, and caregivers to learn the signs of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and to seek medical care for symptoms and access resources for support upon diagnosis.
Alzheimer’s disease is a specific and common form of dementia, which refers to the progressive decline of mental functioning. Although anyone can develop Alzheimer’s, it affects older adults the most, as 97% of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are over 65 years of age. Dementia in any form, however, is not a normal part of aging.
Nationally, 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the fifth leading cause of death among Americans who are 65 and older.
Alzheimer’s disease disproportionately affects women and people of color as both patients and caregivers. Around two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women, as are two-thirds of caregivers for a person with Alzheimer’s. African Americans are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as older adults than white adults, while Hispanic older adults have a one-and-a-half times risk of Alzheimer’s compared to white adults.
In New York State, 400,000 older adults are living with Alzheimer’s disease. They create $5 billion in Medicaid costs and receive 1 billion hours of unpaid care valued at more than $14.5 billion from over 1 million caregivers. 70% of the costs of Alzheimer’s disease are paid by families, who, along with friends, provide 83% of the care given to those with Alzheimer’s. These costs are expected to continue to increase in the future as the number of adults living with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia grows in accordance with growth in New York State’s population of older adults.
Early diagnosis is key to limiting the personal and financial costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The benefits of early diagnosis include:
- Increased access to treatment options that can reduce, though not cure, symptoms of dementia if administered during the early stages of the disease
- The possibility of participating in clinical trials, which may alleviate Alzheimer’s symptoms and contribute to progress in understanding and treating the disease for future patients
- The ability to make lifestyle changes, like healthy eating and physical exercise, that can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease
- Fewer worries about symptoms with knowledge about the diagnosis
- The ability to take advantage of services and resources that support people with Alzheimer’s, their families, and their caregivers
- Being able to create a plan for care ahead of time and discuss end-of-life decisions with family
- Fewer costs for families and the government, with savings of over $7 trillion in health care expenses estimated to result from diagnosis before the advanced stages of dementia
It is important for older adults to seek medical care as soon as they experience any symptom of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Since it can be hard for older adults developing dementia to recognize their symptoms due to the nature of the disease, family members and caregivers should also watch for potential symptoms and schedule a doctor’s appointment if they notice any symptoms of dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgement
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood or personality
It is normal for older adults to become more forgetful as they age, but forgetfulness that interferes with daily life or accompanies any of the above symptoms is not normal and should prompt an immediate visit to the doctor.
New York State provides a variety of resources to support New Yorkers with Alzheimer’s or dementia and their family members and caregivers, one-third of whom are older adults themselves.
The New York State Department of Health operates various local programs for those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, which can be accessed by county. The services provided by these programs include respite for caregivers, training for caregivers and health care providers, and support groups for people with Alzheimer’s, their family members, and their caregivers. These programs allow older adults with Alzheimer’s to receive care in their homes, reducing hospitalizations and increasing their quality of life.
New Yorkers seeking information about resources for those with dementia and their caregivers can also contact NY Connects, which connects New Yorkers with long-term care services and supports, by calling 1-800-342-9781 or contacting their county’s program. Local offices for the aging are another resource for information and support for New Yorkers impacted by Alzheimer’s or dementia.