Barbara Bath remembers her husband, Jim, as “brilliant.”
A military veteran from Ellsworth, Jim Bath was a reading specialist, and a history and psychology teacher at Wichita South High School. He retired in 1994 and got a job that he loved delivering cars for Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
Christmas was his favorite time of year, Barbara said.
Then, nine years ago, “When we started to put the tree together, he just could not figure out how to plug the sets of lights together,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s not my Jim.’
“Decision making and problem solving are among the first things to go,” she said.
Alzheimer’s and other dementias are evolving into a burden of dramatic proportions for Kansas and the nation as baby boomers enter old age at a rate of 10,000 people a day.
While the likelihood of any one person getting dementia appears to be falling as overall senior health improves, the total numbers of people with dementia are rising. In the U.S., the number of people afflicted with dementia is projected to more than double – from 5.2 million now to 13.5 million by 2050 – according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
That would mean that by 2050, 3 percent of the U.S. population would have dementia. Those who work in the field say the federal government, state governments and American families haven’t prepared for the size of the problem.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that in 2015, dementia care cost $226 billion a year. Without a medical breakthrough, that will rise to $1.1 trillion annually by 2050.
That will mean higher taxes or less spending by Medicare and Medicaid on costs not related to dementia. It will also mean more “memory care” facilities for those who can afford it. It will mean more research and treatments to slow or lessen the effects of dementia.
And, as Alzheimer’s and dementia become more common, it will mean less stigma. The disease will no longer be embarrassing or the subject of mean-spirited humor, said Stephen Benson, a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping dementia patients and their families.
“It was a punchline, and even today I still hear jokes all the time,” Benson said. “You laugh, but it’s not OK. The person is losing how they define themselves.”
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