“I want you to come over to see me. You haven’t been here for weeks.”
“What? I was there just yesterday.”
“No you weren’t.”
“Dad, don’t you remember?”
“I remember that you haven’t come to see me for a long time. Don’t you care about me any more?”
That conversation, or something like it, goes on every day, in countless places across the country. It’s the product of dementia. There are many kinds of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s Disease is the best known. Maybe you may think it hard to call dementia an epidemic. But thousands of new cases are diagnosed every year.
Apply those figures to any other illness—measles, cancer, Aids—and we’d have not just an epidemic, but panic.
Compare dementia with, say, the dreaded Ebola virus.
Ebola has about a 50% cure rate. Dementia has a zero cure rate.
It is, as the Alzheimer’s Foundation notes, the only one of the top ten killers which can be neither prevented nor cured. Treatment consists basically of delaying tactics.
Add to that the caregiver crisis. Thousands of dementia patients currently live in hospital beds—a fiendishly expensive means of providing care. Home care is cheaper. But home care involves, on average, 1.5 other adults. Caring for a person with dementia becomes, too often, the dominant influence in the caregiver’s life.
The real victims, are the caregivers. If they take any responsibility for their parent, their spouse, their friend, there comes a point where they can’t leave that person alone. He goes out the door, and can’t recognise his own home anymore. She puts a pot on the stove, and leaves the burner on high. He can’t remember that he got up at night to go to the toilet just ten minutes before. She thinks you’re her brother, her father, her high school sweetheart.
Sadly, today’s crisis is going to get worse, because we live in a culture of denial. Some deny climate change, even although the figures are clear. Global temperatures are rising. So are sea levels. Polar ice is melting. Storms, floods, and fires escalate in violence. But some of us would rather debate it than fight it. So too with dementia.