Health Economics, Caregivers invites and a story about Alzheimer’s

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This November, during National Family Caregivers Month, I’d like to recognize and honor the more than 83,000 individuals caring for someone with Alzheimer’s here in Nebraska. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2018, these caregivers provided 94 million hours of unpaid care, valued at $1.19 billion.

I was one of these caregivers. My husband passed away on March 2019 after, as nearly as I can calculate, ten (10) years dealing with this disease. I supported him at home before I had to make the tough decision to place him in a nursing home as he required more care. At my first support meeting, I learned there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. This was devastating to me, and from there it was downhill until the end. I don’t know what I would have done without the help of my caregivers’ support group.

This month, I am joining the Alzheimer’s Association in asking Congressman Adrian Smith to cosponsor the Improving HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act (S. 880/H.R. 1873), which would increase awareness and access to vital care planning resources available to families affected by dementia through Medicare.

I also invite members of the community to participate in a caregiver proclamation at the State Capitol on Tuesday, November 19, 2019. Visit the events section of the Alzheimer’s Association Nebraska Chapter’s Facebook page to learn more about joining caregivers from across the state on that day.

To learn more about this disease and to join the fight to end Alzheimer’s, visit alz.org/nebraska or alzimpact.org.

Maribeth Chaput, Capital Style (By Matthew Cole/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

There is a history of Alzheimer’s disease in my family. I know that a lot of research is going on and that they haven’t found a cure yet but is there any way to prevent it? I’m not only concerned about myself but also about my children’s chances of developing this awful disease.

Dear Reader,

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent Alzheimer’s disease or any other progressive dementia from striking — yet. In the meantime, research has shown that there are things you can do to decrease your risk and to delay the onset of, as you said, this awful disease.

Lifestyle choices can have a positive (or negative) impact on your brain health. For years, we have heard about keeping our cardiovascular system healthy. It now seems that what’s good for the heart is also good for the brain. So choose a healthy diet, one that is full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, fish and olive oil. Lower your intake of saturated fats and salt. Limit your alcohol intake. Women should have no more than one drink daily; men should limit themselves to no more than two. If you are taking prescription medications, speak with your doctor before you partake of any alcoholic drinks.

Take care of your physical health. Make and keep your annual physical appointments and contact your doctor if you notice any changes between those appointments. Heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and type 2 diabetes can all increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. If you smoke, quit. Make sure you are getting enough sleep.

Monitor your mental health also. Some studies have linked depression with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Find ways to manage your stress, whether through physical activity, meditation, yoga, counseling or medication prescribed by your physician.

No matter how busy your schedule might be – especially if you are a caregiver – stay active. Research has shown that staying socially active lowers your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

If you are physically active, stay active; if you are not physically active, get active! Any exercise that gets your heart rate up can help you think, plan and remember. Find something you enjoy doing, such as walking, swimming or dancing. If you enjoy the activity, you are more likely to continue. Join a club or a group. You can even combine your social and physical activities by joining a bicycling, walking or bowling group!

The Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland College Park is currently during research on Exercise and Brain Health. Researchers are conducting a study to learn more about the effects of exercise as a possible treatment to delay or prevent the onset of cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s disease. More information on this study can be found at www.exerciseforbrainhealth.com or by calling 301-405-2574.

Early Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease May Pose Risk of Financial Problems

People in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease before diagnosis face a greater risk of adverse financial outcomes, according to a new study published in the journal Health Economics.

The researchers say this is likely the consequence of compromised decision-making when managing money, in addition to exploitation and fraud by others.

Alzheimer’s disease isn’t usually diagnosed until symptoms are severe, and its progression typically involves a multi-year process of cognitive decline.

“Previous studies show that people in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s lose financial capacity; that is, their ability to manage their checkbook, to pay bills on time, to spend in ways that are consistent with the values they had in the past,” said lead author, health economist Carole Roan Gresenz, Ph.D., interim dean for Georgetown University’s School of Nursing & Health Studies.

In this study, Gresenz and her team wanted to know more about that impact. “What happens to financial household outcomes during that period of cognitive decline prior to diagnosis?”

To find the answer, the researchers merged data from two sources: the Health and Retirement Study, a national survey of Americans over age 50 which includes questions about households’ financial assets and liabilities; and Medicare claims.

“These combined data allow us to track backward from the date of diagnosis to figure out what was happening to households financially prior to diagnosis,” Gresenz said. “What we found was that households in which someone is in the early stage of the disease are vulnerable to large reductions in liquid assets such as savings, money market, and checking accounts.”

The study also found evidence that these households are likely to have a reduction in net wealth during that time period.

“The findings are concerning because these adverse financial outcomes are occurring just prior to when substantial resource demands will be placed on these families as they grapple with costs related to caregiving needs,” Gresenz said.

She says the findings also speak to the potentially important role of financial institutions in reducing the exposure of vulnerable elderly to poor outcomes.

The researchers are now working on matching credit data — which includes financial outcomes measured for more refined time periods — with Medicare data.

“We want to understand more about the specific types of financial decisions and choices that underlie these findings as well as to explore whether financial information offers the potential for early identification of individuals who are in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s disease and who should be prioritized for additional clinical screening,” Gresenz said.

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