“They think it might all be a bit too awkward,” Julian Hughes says of the friends.
“But attitudes must change. Those friends can adjust, let the conversation go with the flow, accept the person with dementia may be living within a few minutes of experience, so you may have to repeat your stories. But what’s the harm in that? If they are enjoying it, then it’s still a meaningful experience.”
Hughes is a British psychiatrist who specializes in aging–his academic interest is the notion of personhood–and recently he spoke throughout Australia, calling for mainstreaming of those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and for governments to recognize this significant health issue. He also made the point that research funding for Alzheimer’s lags hugely behind other areas, such as cancer. “As the numbers (of diagnosed) rise, funding will need to increase by a factor of six to eight times to keep pace,” Hughes points out.
Dementia is the third-leading cause of death in Australia, behind heart disease and stroke. About 257,000 Australians have dementia today, and that’s expected to rise to more than a million by 2050.
In America, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease are almost equal to those from diabetes, and both rank below heart disease, cancer, respiratory disorders and accidents. But that’s expected to change in the coming years, as Baby Boomers begin hitting age 65. Today, 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease; that number will climb to 13.5 million by 2050, says a report from the Alzheimer’s Association, which says the costs of care will inevitably rise, too, from $172 million today to more than $1 trillion by 2050.