Overwhelming burden, cost of Alzheimer's to triple, report says

Jim Garner was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's at the age of 48. His wife, Karen, is his primary caregiver.

Story highlights

  • More than 35 million people worldwide live with dementia
  • Caregivers shoulder a big part of the burden, whether they're professional or family members
  • By 2050, the cost of caring for this population in the United States may be $1.2 trillion
Karen Garner sometimes catches her husband, Jim, crying in the kitchen of their Virginia home. "All I'm good for now is doing the dishes and the laundry," the former Air Force senior master sergeant complains through his tears.
"I want to come back to him and say, 'No, that's not true' and rattle off some examples ... but I stop myself," Garner said. "Because he's right."
Jim was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease three years ago. He was 48. He lost his job as his cognitive ability declined and now spends his days trying to complete the list of few simple tasks his wife leaves him. He often calls Garner at her job with questions. She worries constantly that this will be the day that he'll get lost or hurt himself or set the house on fire.
"He hasn't done anything yet to cause me concern, but I know it's coming. I know that one day, something will happen," Garner said.
More than 35 million people worldwide live with dementia today, according to a new report. By 2050, that number is expected to more than triple to 115 million. The majority require constant care; they're dependent -- and that dependence can impact their loved ones in unmeasurable ways.
"People with dementia have special needs for care," the report from Alzheimer's Disease International says. "They need more personal care, more hours of care, and more supervision, all of which is associated with greater caregiver strain, and higher costs."
The 2013 World Alzheimer's Report, titled "Journey of Care," examines global trends related to older people who need dementia care, including those with Alzheimer's disease.
In the early stages of dementia, patients become forgetful. They get confused about the time or their location. Decisions are difficult. As the disease progresses, patients have a harder time communicating and caring for themselves. By the final stage, patients can no longer recognize their loved ones, eat without assistance or even move.
It's a slow, torturous decline, Garner says. Jim breaks some things and loses others. He provides off-the-wall answers to people's questions. He's emotionally detached from their two kids, aged 9 and 12.
She worries that her kids won't remember what an "awesome" father Jim was. He was the dad who got up in the middle of the night to help with feedings and change diapers. He read to the kids, played with them, took care of them when they were sick.
Garner is brutally honest about the impact the disease is having on the family.
"It would be a little bit easier if he would just decline quickly and get it over with," Garner said. "But unfortunately, Alzheimer's doesn't work that way."
People with Alzheimer's live on average four to eight years after they're diagnosed, but some may live 20 years beyond their initial diagnosis.
Caregivers, whether they're family or professionals, share many traits, the World Alzheimer Report notes; they often do demanding work with minimal training or prepar