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Memory Disorders and the Caregiving Gap: One Woman’s Story

May 29, 2015

There’s a growing issue in the U.S. health landscape—the rapid increase in diagnoses of memory disorders. Currently, more than 5.3 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is projected to swell in the coming years.

Memory loss becomes more common with age, and recent data suggests that more Americans could grapple with cognitive challenges as they get older. That’s because people are living longer, but increasing age is one of the most significant risk factors for Alzheimer’s. About half of all Americans age 85 and older have this disease, and experts think that more than 7 million people in this age group will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by 2050.

These figures are especially sobering because they indicate a huge caregiving gap that our country could experience. In the coming decades, the population will shift, and there will be more people in the 80 and older age group but far fewer in the 45-64 age range. Many of these aging Baby Boomers, who were caregivers for their own elderly parents, may not have that same support when it’s their turn.

The caregiver’s burden: Rebecca’s story

Caring for elderly loved ones is a full-time responsibility, especially when they have memory challenges. For some adult children who may live hundreds or thousands of miles away, providing a trained part-time or full-time caregiver also can be difficult. There’s also a huge emotional toll when caring for a family member with cognitive challenges, as caregivers face constant worries about their safety and well-being.

Rebecca Hately-Goldson is a prime example of this.

Rebecca is a registered nurse who quit her job and moved from Orlando to Lake County to care for her aging parents. Over time, she noticed that her mother was showing signs of dementia. Because of this, Rebecca removed all the car keys from her parents’ home. But last year, somehow and somewhere a single car key remained, and her 85-year-old mother found it. When Rebecca learned her mother had driven off alone, she called the sheriff’s department and they issued a Silver Alert, a tool law enforcement uses to reduce the risk that someone who is cognitively impaired will get into an accident.

Fortunately, Rebecca’s mother was found safe later that day. The incident also had another positive outcome. The Silver Alert triggered a call from the Memory Disorder Clinic, putting Rebecca in touch with a vital resource she could rely on for support with her mother’s care. Rebecca had tried to get her mother help through her primary care physician. However, the doctor didn’t specialize in memory and didn’t know how to address what was happening.

Specialized care is critical for memory disorders

As a primary care physician, I act as a wayfinder for patients, helping them navigate the healthcare system as they seek care for themselves or family members. The Memory Disorder Clinic, founded in 1995, has been a key part of this effort. As one of 15 state-designated centers that diagnoses and treats patients with memory loss and helps families cope with their care, the clinic understands the challenges many people face.

For caregivers, it’s so important to seek the help of specialists who have expertise in dealing with specific health conditions. As doctors and trained healthcare professionals, we often act as an extension of you, supporting family caregivers who may not know what step to take next when a parent begins to experience age-related health issues.

We tap into multiple disciplines for our care. In Rebecca’s case, testing confirmed that certain deficits and dementia had contributed to her mother’s changes, such as frequent falls and the driving incident. We also discovered that Rebecca’s mother carried the Alzheimer’s gene. Because we pinpointed the cause, we were able to come up with a solution. Sturdier shoes have reduced Rebecca’s mother’s falls from twice a month to one fall in the last year and a half. We also prescribed vitamin supplements and medications to address behaviors such as anxiety, restlessness and sleeping problems.

Caregivers do very noble and difficult work. Caring for an aging parent or relative is an ongoing responsibility that requires support. Sometimes this comes in the form of other family members or close friends, but in other cases community resources can fill the gap. If you suspect that a loved one is experiencing memory loss, don’t hesitate to contact our team for help.

Please visit our Memory Disorder Clinic website for more information or call (321) 841-6600 to schedule an appointment.