CNN’s airing of the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me revealed an intimate and touching glimpse into the decline of a beloved public figure. Mr. Campbell’s courage to be public about his journey with Alzheimer’s Disease is a remarkable service to us all. With the aging of the American population and a population that is living longer, it is predicted that Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia will afflict 1 in 3 who live to be 85. Are we prepared?
Working in an association dedicated to helping its members provide quality end of life care through hospice and other palliative services, I am pondering the impact of this disease on our industry. Our industry already knows that Alzheimer’s has a protracted yet unpredictable trajectory. A hallmark of hospice, support for the patient’s family caregivers, reaches new heights when talking about Alzheimer’s Disease. The emotional toll of watching a loved one decline – losing shared memories, family members going unrecognized, inability to do life’s simplest tasks – can lead to depression, financial strain and health care issues for family caregivers. At the end of life, hospice is a partnership between the family caregivers and the interdisciplinary professionals of the hospice team. And when asked, most people want to spend their final days in their homes, surrounded by their loved ones. My concern for hospice is that the family caregiver will be unable to provide the care expected by our hospice programs.
It is gratifying to see this conversation and other end of life issues coming into the public sphere. Our healthcare, social and community structures are not prepared to handle the anticipated growth of this special population. Let’s keep this conversation out front because we will all be touched in one way or another by this devastating disease.