CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of the most heartbreaking health-care problems we face in the United States is what to do when our family members or friends face dementia. Dementia is an awful progressive illness, and for years families have struggled with the best ways to care for those suffering with the illness.
A RAND Corp. study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the number of dementia patients in the country is going to continue to rise. The current total of 3.8 million patients will increase to more than 9 million by 2040.
The cost of caring for Alzheimer's and other types of dementia is between $157 billion and $215 billion a year. The study determines that families face spending $40,000 to $50,000 annually per patient. The most significant cost is for nursing-home care.
Until a cure is found for Alzheimer's disease, family and friends face an urgent need to plan ahead for long-term care in order to support loved ones.
I would like to suggest that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Many older adults prefer to stay at home for as long as possible, rather than moving into a long-term care facility as they age. In-home care offers affordable, flexible alternatives when nursing home care is too expensive.
Different stages of disease require different levels of attention, and in-home care options are available to meet specific patient needs. Some in-home services provide nonmedical help, such as assistance with daily living, transportation to doctor's appointments and nutrition benefits. Other in-home services involve medical care given by a licensed health professional, such as a nurse or physical therapist.
The FAIR Program is available in every county of West Virginia and offers up to 16 hours of relief a week to family members who serve as caregivers. At the same time, the program provides one-on-one attention and individualized activities for persons with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia.
Choosing the right care option for a loved one can be a difficult decision. But it is comforting to know that in-home care services -- such as home health care, homemaker help, personal care, meals-on-wheels programs, respite care and adult day care -- are viable options that help maintain patient comfort while extending flexibility to family and friends.
Gibson is the executive director of the Wyoming County Council on Aging.