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Judy McKellar has endured the devastation of Alzheimer’s twice — both her parents struggled with the disease before their deaths.
“I think it’s one of the most devastating diseases on the planet,”
McKellar, “It robs you of the person one memory, one moment, one brain cell at a time.”
McKellar’s parents lived on their own for years after their diagnoses, with McKellar providing the care that let them remain in their own home.
Caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, she added, is both “rewarding and overwhelming.”
An estimated 4.5 million Americans now have Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia in people over 65.
The health care costs associated with treating those patients exceed $100 billion a year. And as baby boomers grow older during the next few decades, the number of victims and the dollar costs of care are expected to almost quadruple, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Faced with those mounting challenges, a growing number of people are choosing to devote themselves to the care of someone with Alzheimer’s.
McKellar’s mother, Bert, began suffering the effects of Alzheimer’s first, and she underwent a gradual decline.
“Mom wouldn’t remember things,” McKellar said. “She would, say, make cheese sandwiches, only you’d have bread and butter and no cheese. She’d just forget the cheese in cheese sandwiches.”
Alzheimer’s hit her father, Mac — who used to own his own construction company — later in life. But it struck him hard, robbing him of his ability to use proper judgment and solve problems.
The disease required patience from all the caregivers who watched over the couple.
Experts stress that caregivers have a responsibility to keep themselves mentally and physically healthy, both when caring for the person and if the person is eventually institutionalized.
There are several options available to a caregiver.
“If families are knowledgeable about the disease and know what to expect, they can be more empowered in dealing with the disease.”
“The most important thing is they get linked with helpful community resources they may need.”
McKellar’s mother died at age 83. Her father followed at age 91.