A new documentary on dementia has just premiered this past week on Netflix¸ and it’s sure to attract a lot of attention. We haven’t seen it yet, but we did discover this article about the documentary on the Newsweek website. The article features an interview about the disease with Dr. John DenBoer, a dementia researcher who produced the Netflix documentary, and it serves as an excellent primer to help us better understand this devastating condition — what we might call dementia basics.
Dementia Basics: Alzheimer’s isn’t the Only Type
Dementia is a global phenomenon, according to the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org). “Worldwide, 50 million people are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias,” the association reports. Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative brain disease, is the most common form of dementia, but “dementia” itself is not a specific disease. “It’s an overall term that describes a group of symptoms,” the Alzheimer’s Association explains. These symptoms typically include “a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.” The most common form, Alzheimer’s disease, accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type. “But,” the Association says, “there are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.”
Alzheimer’s alone affects almost 6 million Americans suffering with the disease, along with another 16 million family members and friends who are providing unpaid care for someone with Alzheimer’s. The number of cases in the U.S. alone is projected to rise to nearly 14 million by 2050 – and experts fear our health care system is almost completely unprepared for the coming onslaught of new dementia patients. Dr. DenBoer says this wave of dementia patients has the potential to bankrupt Social Security and Medicare unless we take action.
Dementia Basics: Behind the Stats, Family Devastation
The Newsweek interview with Dr. DenBoer does a good job of getting past the statistics, since dementia is above all a devastating human illness. “Beneath these startling figures are the experiences of families who must watch as the disease slowly steals the memories and physical strength of their loved ones,” the article begins. Dr. DenBoer, who is also a neuropsychologist whose grandmother died from dementia, explains why a cure is so elusive, why much of what we believe about dementia is untrue, and what people can do, according to current research, to stay mentally healthier as they age.
The article begins on a sobering note as Dr. DenBoer tells Newsweek readers that, as a society, we should be “very worried” about the skyrocketing incidence of dementia. “I believe that dementia is the most horrible of diseases,” he states, “because it takes from us what we value the most: independence, dignity and quality time. And then it kills us.” Dr. DenBoer also says that dementia is “probably the only disease that may be harder for the caregiver than it is for the person affected.” (We’ve seen this borne out in dozens of recent articles about the crushing emotional, physical and financial burden of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.) Tragically, the Newsweek interview warns, the emergency is only going to escalate. “As the baby boomer generation ages into the range of dementia, we are faced with both a massive personal and societal crisis. It’s right upon us now: we’re staring it in the face, although we may not see it.”
Dementia Basics: Use Your Fear as Motivation to Build Awareness
However, Dr. DenBoer urges, as a society we can’t allow worry to paralyze us into inaction. “Worry can be useful,” he says, “but we must use it.” Rather than living in a state of fear about dementia affecting us or a loved one, “we should use that emotion to educate and empower ourselves and, most importantly, to take action against this disease via early identification and intervention.” He adds, “It all starts with reducing the stigma, increasing awareness and having real and honest conversations with loved ones about this disease.”
According to Newsweek, the main reason for the projected rise in people with dementia isn’t that people are more prone to getting diagnosed with the illness. “Actually,” Dr. DenBoer says, “the incidence of dementia is dropping slightly…although the prevalence of the disease is rising.” Doctors think that the slight drop in the incidence of dementia is caused by people doing a better job of controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. However, the sheer number of cases is going up and up, for three reasons, Dr. Den Boer told Newsweek: the population as a whole is growing, people are living longer, and the great big population bulge called the boomer generation is aging to the point where dementia becomes more likely.
Dementia Basics: Three Persistent Misconceptions
Dr. DenBoer told Newsweek that there are at least three persistent misconceptions about dementia. First, many believe it’s just part of aging, but that’s not true – many seniors live their entire lives with mental faculties intact. Second, some argue that “simply keeping your brain active is enough,” but research shows that brain health is far more complicated than that. Third, says Dr. DenBoer, people often assume that dementia develops out of nowhere. “In reality,” he says, “it typically develops slowly for 7 to 10 years prior to the onset of demonstrable symptoms. We call these early stages mild cognitive impairment.” A growing body of dementia research has shown that a combination of aerobic and cognitive exercise done over time is really beneficial for the health of the brain, along with staying socially active and “stretching” your mind by learning and doing new things. Also, adjust your diet. It will keep your heart healthier, and as Dr. DenBoer told Newsweek, “heart health equals brain health.”
Retirement Basics: Be Better Prepared
There’s much more to cover, so we hope you’ll click on the link and read the Newsweek article for the sake of yourself and your family. It will definitely provide important food for thought and help you be better prepared. And speaking of preparation, when it comes t0 retirement planning, we can help you by showing you how all the facets of your retirement plan can fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Along with your medical needs – helping you preserve your health – you need to take your housing desires into account, to make certain you’re living in the environment that’s right for you. In retirement, your finances will play a pivotal role, as will your legal affairs. Finally, unless your family is aware and supportive of your retirement plans, you could be heading for major family conflict in the future. An AgingOptions LifePlan is the one plan we know of that blends all these elements together: financial, legal, medical, housing and family.
If you’re ready to learn more, why not take a few hours and attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars? There’s no obligation whatsoever – just bring your questions and prepare to have your eyes opened about a new approach to retirement security. For all the details, visit our Live Events page, or call us during the week and we’ll gladly assist you. We hope to see you very soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.
(originally reported at www.newsweek.com)