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    Alzheimer's Hits 5.1 Million Americans

    Cases Predicted to More Than Triple -- to 16 Million -- by 2050

    Alzheimer's Caregivers Stressed Physically, Financially continued...

    The value of this care: $83 billion a year, dollars not included in calculations of U.S. health care costs.

    "Families are bearing a very heavy burden. And this is not covered by health insurance," McConnell says.

    Alzheimer's falls into the category of long-term care, which is available only to Americans able to purchase expensive long-term care insurance or to those impoverished enough to qualify for Medicaid.

    If you think you or an elderly family member can afford Alzheimer's care, you may be wrong. Two-thirds of free-living elderly people -- and 84% of those at high risk of needing long-term care -- cannot afford more than a year in a nursing home. Three-fourths of those at high risk cannot afford even a month of nursing-home care.

    Why? In 2006, a private room in an assisted living facility cost $35,616 a year. A private room in a nursing home cost $75,190 a year. Adult day services range from $25 to $100 a day. And home health aids cost $19 an hour.

    "Ultimately, we need financial insurance protection so the disease doesn't bankrupt the whole family," McConnell says. "It is unfair to make a family choose between sending their child to college and taking care of their dad."

    Dollars represent only the financial cost of Alzheimer's care. Two-thirds of these caregivers provide physically demanding care. This includes bathing, feeding, toilet trips, and incontinence care for patients whose confusion often leads them to struggle against the caregiver.

    More than 70% of caregivers do this for more than a year -- and a third of them do it for five or more years. It's no wonder 40% of Alzheimer's caregivers report high levels of emotional stress.

    The physical stress of caregiving is summed up in one awful statistic: People who care for dementia patients have an increased risk of death.

    "Caregivers are doing a very important service to the country, but we need to do a better job of taking care of the caregiver," McConnell says.

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