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Who’s going to care for you if you get dementia? And how will you afford it?

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If you’re worried about getting old, you’re probably not worrying enough.

Yes, that’s a dismal way to begin. But for people in their 60s and up who fear a future dementia diagnosis, grim statistics abound.

An estimated 13.8 million people in the U.S. could have Alzheimer’s disease by 2060, compared with 6.5 million today. And that’s just the most common type of dementia; there are many others such as Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Read: What is FTD? Bruce Willis has frontotemporal dementia, the most common form of dementia in people under 60

The mind-robbing nature of dementia means that afflicted individuals need both trained medical professionals and intensive hands-on care as the disease progresses. Finding that care is hard enough in 2023. In the coming decades, it will be much harder.

About 150 million Americans live in areas that lack mental health professionals. A coming wave of retirement among psychiatrists (more than 60% are currently above 55) will make matters worse. And a projected shortage of up to 30,000 psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other mental health caregivers looms on the horizon. 

Read: The long-term-care system is broken. How can we fix it?

If acknowledging the problem is the first step toward solving it, then at least there’s hope.

“I’m optimistic,” said Kris Engskov, co-founder and chief executive of Rippl Care, a Seattle-based mental health startup focusing on seniors. “In the last five years, so many things have advanced people’s awareness of the challenge.”

He cites initial strides in pharmaceuticals (lecanemab and aducanumab) and technology that enables people with dementia to get better care and support. But he’s also a realist.

Read: Our food may be giving us Alzheimer’s disease, new research says

“Given the demographic wave that’s coming, we’re not prepared,” he said. Indeed, an estimated 10 million baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) could develop Alzheimer’s

While preretirees and retirees can embrace a lifestyle that wards off dementia—maintaining a healthy diet, exercising (physically and mentally to keep the brain sharp) and staying socially active—there are no guarantees. So the future of dementia care rests on our ability to innovate our way out of this mess.

Some experts cite the promise of artificial intelligence and machine learning as tools to improve caregiving in the coming years.

Read: Alzheimer’s update: Here’s the latest, most hopeful news

Facial recognition technology and algorithms that use predictive text can help people with dementia, says Sarah Lock, senior vice president for policy and brain health at AARP. She adds that some of these tools are already available, such as home monitoring, tracking and communication devices.

Example: To help people with dementia identify callers, a cellphone by RAZ Mobility simplifies calling with a one-touch dial picture phone.

Read: Caregiving can turn your retirement plans upside down

Given the shortage of paid home-health aides, advances in robotics also provide a glimmer of hope. Japanese firms are developing robots to assist caregivers as well as provide comfort to people with dementia in the form of “animals” like Paro, a furry baby seal interactive robot.

Ideally, there would be plenty of human caregivers to hire who are compassionate, honest and reliable. In reality, there’s a shrinking pool of Americans willing to do this low-paying, labor-intensive work. And there’s an ever-expanding population of older people who need care.

One solution is to make it easier for family caregivers to devote more time to help a loved one with dementia. If someone with dementia is an eligible veteran, they can enroll in the VA Caregiver Support Program to enable their family caregiver to receive a monthly stipend. 

A proposed federal bill, the Credit for Caring Act, would provide a tax credit of up to $5,000 to eligible caregivers to cover their expenses.

“With dementia, familiarity is key and being cared for by someone you trust,” said Max Mayblum, founder and chief executive of Givers, a Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based firm that provides resources and support to family caregivers. “Tapping into family caregivers as a new labor market” can help address shortages in home health aides.

Another trend that might benefit family caregivers is the push for accessory dwelling units (ADUs). As more states establish laws giving homeowners the right to create an ADU for a family member or caregiver, it creates more opportunities for multigenerational families to live side by side.

“There has been a shift away from multigenerational households as more young people move to follow a career or educational path,” Mayblum said. “That has left a gaping hole in geographic proximity, which the development of ADUs can help fill.”


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