Alzheimer’s is on the rise across all Americans over 65, with one in nine people in that age cohort now living with the disease, a total of over six million people. But for American Indian and Alaska Native populations—who are more predisposed to Alzheimer’s and dementia than White and Asian populations—Alzheimer’s is growing exponentially, with at least one in three elders predicted to develop the disease.
Faced with the cost of 24-hour at-home care—which can quickly plummet families into debt—or $7,000 per month for a private nursing home, 16 million Americans, like Lorraine, have chosen to become Alzheimer’s caregivers themselves. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three American Native adults is now a caregiver, providing regular care or assistance to a friend or family member with a health problem or disability.
Most American Indian families care for seniors at home, out of deep reverence for elders and a distrust of nursing facilities. But people are not born knowing how to take care of an adult with a brain disease, Henderson said. He conducts trainings—the “Savvy Caregiver in Indian Country”—outlining each Alzheimer’s stage with strategies, since the job continually changes. Without a cure, “the caregiver remains the best medicine” for the disease.
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