Alzheimer’s is a healthcare crisis

Margaret Brackett - Contributing Columnist

In this week’s column Sam Wiley, vice president of programs for the S.C. Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, will discuss the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the family caretaker and announce a Caretaker Conference at Newberry College on May 19.

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease and the most common cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that destroys brain cells over time. As the disease begins to destroy the brain cells in certain parts of the brain, this is when you will notice the trouble individuals begin to have with their memory. This is when individuals begin to have memory problems that disrupt their daily life.

Dementia is a “general” term. There are many different things that can cause dementia. Dementia is not Alzheimer’s, but Alzheimer’s disease causes dementia. When someone informs me they have a dementia, my next question is what type of dementia? If someone has been diagnosed with a dementia, we need to work with your medical provider to determine what is causing the dementia.

Right now across the United States there are over 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. We estimate that approximately 16 million Americans will have the disease by 2050.

When looking at statistics in South Carolina currently there are 86,000 individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. We are projecting that by year 2025 there will be an estimated 120,000 individuals with Alzheimer’s disease in South Carolina. Actually, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in South Carolina.

A family caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s or another dementia poses special challenges. For example, people in the middle to later stages of Alzheimer’s experience losses in judgment, orientation, and the ability to understand and communicate effectively.

As the person with the disease begins to require increasing levels of supervision and personal care, the care required of those family members can result in increased emotional stress and depression upon the caregiver. We see higher incidents of new or increasing health problems in family caregivers.

In 2017 the cost for caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is estimated to total $259 billion. That’s nationwide. When we look at South Carolina alone, in 2016 there were 304,000 family caregivers. These family caregivers, in South Carolina, provided a total of 347 billion hours of unpaid care to their loved one. The total value of this unpaid care, just in South Carolina along, equals to over $4 billion.

Also, family caregivers in South Carolina had higher health costs that equal close to $2 million. In 2017, the Medicaid costs of caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease will total $544 million.

A lot of the times the Alzheimer’s Association will discuss with family caregivers 10 common signs of caregiver stress. Those caregiver stress symptoms range from denial, anger, social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, sleeplessness, irritability, lack of concentration and health problems.

When family caregivers start to recognize these stressors, I would advise to educate yourself. Learn ways to manage your stress. Learn about all the resources that are available. Then try to work out a plan that best fits you and your family. Modify the plan as you need to. Start with the Alzheimer’s Association. This is what we are trained to do. Call 1-800-272-3900. Or find us on the web at

The Alzheimer’s Association offers several program services to families and individuals affected by the disease. These services are helpline/care consultations, support groups, educational programs, and safety services. In addition, the Alzheimer’s Association offers a host of services online.

The Association has a program coming up in Newberry on May 19 at Newberry College at the Center for Teacher Education in the Gnann Conference Room. The Center for Teacher Education is located at 121 Speers St. Lunch will be provided.

The conference is focused on all caregivers, not just family caregivers for individuals with dementia. The conference would also be good information for any college student that may be considering going into this field.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Dorree Lynn, is a national expert who is a psychotherapist consultant. Her presentations will be on “Taking Care of the Caregiver.” She also will discuss “Keeping Intimacy Alive.”

Caregivers interested in attending the conference can call 1-800-272-3900 to register or go to and look for the educational programs/calendar tab to register online.

Margaret Brackett

Contributing Columnist

Margaret Brackett is from Newberry. Her columns appear weekly in The Newberry Observer.

Margaret Brackett is from Newberry. Her columns appear weekly in The Newberry Observer.

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