Chairwoman Dianne Jacob and  Supervisor Dave Roberts of the SD County Board of Supervisors Launch The Alzheimer's Project

Family Caregivers Facing Alzheimer’s In San Diego With Assistance From Companion Care Services

Nationally, in 2011, Alzheimer’s Disease was ranked as the sixth leading cause of death. But in San Diego County, Alzheimer’s was the third leading cause of death between 2008 and 2012, with the highest concentration of sufferers in East County. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases with age, and The Mayo Clinic claims that more than half of all people 85 and older have Alzheimer’s. And in San Diego County, the’ 85 and over’ is the fastest growing age group, even among all those 65 and over, with a projected growth rate through 2030 into the triple digits. The unsung heroes of this epidemic are the hundreds of thousands of unpaid, family caregivers whose care allows the Alzheimer’s patient to stay in a familiar place while enduring a confusing and difficult disease. Companion care services offer assistance and respite to family Alzheimer’s caregivers who often neglect their own health and well-being for the sake of their loved one, at the expense of their own strength.

60,000 San Diegans Have Alzheimer’s

While Alzheimer’s Disease may be the most well-known form of dementia, there are other dementias that afflict in similarly debilitating ways. All dementias are commonly characterized by memory loss, deterioration in thinking skills, and the reduced capacity to perform everyday activities. More than half a million people die from Alzheimer’s nationally each year, and this total is expected to grow as more Americans live into their eighties and nineties. Currently, it’s estimated that 60,000 San Diegans have Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementia (ADOD), and the largest number of these patients, by almost a third, are located in East County. Based on current population growth projections, it’s estimated that by 2020, almost 78,000 residents will be living with ADOD, and by 2030, that figure will have grown to over 93,000. These figures are based on emergency department or hospital discharges mentioning Alzheimers or other dementia, emergency medical services records, and other public health sources, and the analysis was conducted by the senior epidemiologist for the County of San Diego, Leslie Upledger Ray, for the county’s newly formed Alzheimer’s Project.

Why San Diego?

The bigger question appears to be why San Diego County has a higher rate of Alzheimer’s Disease and mortality than the national average. Given that San Diego is one of the ten most populous counties in California, a group that includes LA and Orange counties, and a beautiful place to live, it makes sense that the population is growing fast in every age segment. And as they say in statistics, correlation isn’t causation. There’s nothing sinister or malevolent in San Diego County that’s causing people to develop Alzheimer’s. As mentioned earlier, while Alzheimer’s damages and affects the brain, aging is the greatest risk factor for developing the disease. With the Mayo Clinic claiming that more than half of all people 85 and older have Alzheimer’s, and with San Diego County’s 65+ population measured at just over 191,000 in 2013, then a high rate of Alzheimer’s is not unusual. And the projected future impact tracks to the current population density of San Diegans 55 and over living in Kearny Mesa, Central San Diego and El Cajon, with Oceanside and Escondido close behind, according to the County’s information.

Family Caregivers Facing A Growing Alzheimer’s Epidemic

However, the greater cause for concern is the army of caregivers supporting this cadre of Alzheimer’s patients. Mary Ball, president and chief executive officer of the local Alzheimer’s Association, says that “[M]ore than 80 percent of those living with Alzheimer’s being cared for at home by a family member.” The County of San Diego estimates that there are 136,800 unpaid caregivers providing care to San Diegans currently living with ADOD. In 2013, these caregivers provided 156 million hours of unpaid care, valued at $1.94 billion. Currently, the annual national (paid) cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s reportedly exceeds $200 billion. And unfortunately, caregivers experience depression, stress, and have difficulty managing their own health. In San Diego County, the health care costs to caregivers were calculated at $75.4 million. If projections are accurate, there will be 93,600 people aged 55 years and over with ADOD in San Diego County by 2030. This will require 213,325 unpaid caregivers giving 242.8 million hours of unpaid care, valued at $3.02 billion in today’s dollars.

San Diego County Launches The Alzheimer’s Project

While the San Diego Board of Supervisor’s announced The Alzheimer Project in May 2014 to tackle the Alzheimer’s epidemic in San Diego County, the immediate plan is to plan for the future. The project will build partnerships with the private sector to raise money, engage with caregivers to brainstorm an enhanced network of services, raise public awareness of the disease and encourage federal support.

Homecare Solutions Offer Respite To Family Caregivers

In the immediate future, however, caregivers on the front lines can work with companion care agencies like Casa Companion Homecare Solutions in San Diego to get daily and overnight support caring for loved ones. A wide range of home care solutions offering respite services for the memory-loss caregiver are available in San Diego County that will allow the caregiver to focus on all-important self-care.