Community Health Watch: Caring for Those with Alzheimer’s Disease or Other Dementias

EMSWorld now offers Community Health Watch articles for use by your EMS agency. These short, pre-written, easy to use articles are intended to be educational for your local community members on a wide range of public safety and health issues, and may be branded for your use. Your organization is free to use this as a community column in your local newspaper, a letter to the editor, a press release or in any other way you see fit. Either copy the text below or download the attached Word document

Losing your keys is frustrating. Losing your wallet can be downright scary. But losing your sense of self—your memories, knowledge and personality—as happens to victims of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementias, can be soul-crushing. Who are you—what are you—when you’re no longer yourself?

Today, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds. By 2050, there is expected to be one new case of AD every 33 seconds, or nearly a million new cases per year. And with an estimated 5.4 million Americans suffering from AD today, that projects to 11 million to 16 million with AD in less than 40 years. That’s a lot of people with some unique care needs and considerations.

Because the disease is, in all cases, progressively degenerative, many people with AD or other dementias will be cared for at some point by a family member, in-home caregiver or at a nursing home or hospital facility. However, an estimated one in seven people with AD live alone, and up to half of them have no identifiable caregiver. Although many people with dementia can maintain basic aspects of self-care, according to the 2012 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures report from Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, several studies indicate people with dementia who live alone are at increased risk of inadequate self-care, including malnutrition, untreated medical conditions, inadequate clothing or housing, and poor hygiene. As a result, there’s an increased need for emergency medical services for dementia patients who live alone.

It’s common for people with AD and other dementias to exhibit impaired judgment, problem-solving abilities, visual perception and spatial perception, as well as disorientation. That increases the risk for falls among this population, which are already a major cause of serious injury and emergency department visits among the elderly.

People with AD and other dementias, especially those living alone, are also at increased risk of wandering away from home and getting lost. Wandering is a significant safety risk for these individuals and frequently ends in injuries or death, as no one is available to promptly notify law enforcement or EMS.

And living alone often results in a host of other problems for this population, as people with AD or other dementias are at a greater risk for starting accidental fires and dying from them than other older people. And older people with dementia who live alone are more likely to need emergency medical services because they’ve accidentally overdosed or forgotten to take the proper amount of prescribed medications, or have been involved in an auto accident when no one else was available to drive them.

It’s imperative for family and friends of elderly people experiencing signs of AD or other dementias to seek a proper medical diagnosis and develop a care plan for their loved ones. Providing regular care and supervision for a person with AD or other dementias is a major key to avoiding accidents. And by creating an environment with informed caregivers, you’ll be giving EMS providers the best opportunity to deliver exceptional care for your loved one in an emergency.

Tips and statistics courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association.