Dementia is a general term for diseases affecting memory, thinking, or decision-making, impacting daily activities.
Someone in the world develops dementia, on average, every 3 seconds. That’s 10 million new cases of dementia each year worldwide. In 2020, over 55 million individuals worldwide were living with this disease. This figure is expected to double every 20 years, reaching 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050. As you can see, these figures are staggering.
Dementia results from a variety of brain-affecting diseases. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60-70% of cases. Dementia currently ranks as the seventh leading cause of death.
Among all races, women are approximately twice as likely to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease than men, as women tend to live longer than men, and this disease tends to affect people aged 65 and over.
In the United States, by 2060, approximately 14 million people will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, predominantly affecting the Hispanic and African-American populations. Why might these two populations be hit the hardest? Some suggest the prevalence of health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes among these populations. Also factoring into this projection are lower levels of education and higher poverty rates among these sectors, all contributing to delayed diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
Several studies seem to indicate that maintaining strong social connections and staying mentally engaged as we age may help lower the risk of developing dementia. However, at present, this is a disease without a cure. Some medications can be used to help treat the symptoms or somewhat delay the progression of the disease, but eventually, the disease takes its toll.
Along with the profound impact that dementia has on the individual with the disease, there is a significant financial burden on the patient’s family, especially as the disease progresses and the individual requires more medical intervention. This may lead to attempts to reduce expenditures by cutting back on supervision and medical care. If this should happen, the medical and mental health of the individual will likely suffer, causing an acceleration in the progression of the disease—a vicious, life-threatening cycle.
In conclusion, dementia is a terrible disease that robs affected individuals of basic abilities such as memory, reasoning, and the ability to control and express feelings and emotions.
What follows is my interpretation of what it may be like to be imprisoned by the disease of dementia. I hope it helps magnify the urgency of finding better treatments for this disease that steals life.
At one time,
the world had no boundaries.
Each day dawned new and fresh.
Adventures to be undertaken,
friends to meet,
shopping trips for the
sheer joy of shopping.
at the favorite spot.
Each moment of each day was energized.
Each day brought new hope
and a new goal to be reached.
Joy and energy infused the act of living.
Then the mind became the enemy,
playing evil games.
The familiar became foreign … unrecognizable,
Impenetrable clouds covered reality.
The world started shrinking …
enclosed between four walls.
Memories were difficult to retrieve …
lost in the clutter of cobwebs
within the mind.
Pleasure found only in the moment,
for everything else … lost in the shadows.
The eyes see,
but the mind does not understand.
Sparks of vitality snuffed out by the
darkness in the mind.
Not knowing what was lost
makes the struggle to find it futile.
And the conversation between mind and body
slows to a crawl
in this constantly shrinking world.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient advocate.