Los Angeles Times bestselling author Dr. Venus Nicolino sees the toll dementia takes on patients and loved ones. The numbers are staggering. In the U.S., 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Alzheimer’s disease kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. More than 6 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s.
A doctor of clinical psychology, Nicolino views Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias as major public health issues with far-reaching implications.
“They pose significant challenges for individuals, families, health care systems, and society as a whole,” she says. “The prevalence of dementia increases with age, and as life expectancy rises, the impact of these diseases becomes even more significant.”
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for about 60% to 70% of cases. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and mixed dementia.
“Globally, an estimated 50 million people are living with dementia,” Nicolino says. “This number is projected to triple by 2050.”
Dr. Venus Nicolino Understands That Alzheimer’s Disease Is Notoriously Difficult — and Expensive — To Treat
Despite extensive research, there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Medication can ease symptoms, but they don’t stop or reverse the disease’s progression.
Nicolino supports efforts to understand the underlying causes, risk factors, and mechanisms of dementia and Alzheimer’s. She’s hopeful about research into early detection and intervention strategies. Such medical breakthroughs can enhance the quality of life for patients.
Until science makes a breakthrough, dementia will continue to place a tremendous burden on health care systems, Nicolino explains.
“The complex nature of these diseases requires comprehensive medical, social, and long-term care services,” she says. “The cost of dementia care is substantial, including diagnosis, treatment, and caregiving expenses. Moreover, the progressive nature of dementia often necessitates long-term care and support, which can strain health care systems.”
How Dementia Affects Caregivers
Alzheimer’s and other dementias affect the individuals diagnosed, their families, and their caregivers. Few experiences are worse than witnessing a loved one’s cognitive decline and personality changes. Such challenging responsibilities can increase stress, anxiety, and depression in the caregivers.
“Caregivers often face physical, emotional, and financial strains,” says Dr. Venus Nicolino. “Dementia care requires constant supervision, assistance with daily activities, and significant time commitments.”
Another problem nags at the families of Alzheimer’s or dementia patients: The economic impact is substantial. Medical expenses, hospitalizations, and long-term care for the direct costs are considerable. But indirect costs also factor into the price tag; for example, caregivers may quit their jobs to provide care for a loved one.
Of the many health conditions that plague society, dementia is among the costliest to treat. In 2023, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the U.S. $345 billion. That figure doesn’t include the financial value of unpaid caregiving.
Still, there are things that caregivers can do to ease the strain of disease progression, tips Dr. Nicolino.
“Engage individuals in activities that stimulate their cognitive abilities and provide a sense of accomplishment,” she says. “This can include puzzles, memory games, music therapy, and art therapy. Stimulating the mind can help maintain cognitive function, boost mood, and provide a sense of purpose.”
Dr. Venus Nicolino Thinks the U.S. Should Take a Multifaceted Approach to Addressing Alzheimer’s
“Public health initiatives should focus on risk reduction strategies, such as promoting a healthy lifestyle, cardiovascular health, and lifelong learning,” Nicolino says. “Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach.”
Public health interventions include raising disease awareness, promoting early diagnosis, implementing supportive policies, and investing in research. Such programs can involve research, health care services, public awareness, and policies prioritizing prevention, diagnosis, and support for affected individuals and their caregivers.
“Furthermore,” Nicolino adds, “it is essential to ease the burden on caregivers by supporting them with respite care, education, and financial assistance.”
Advice on Helping Individuals With Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
In her work in clinical psychology, Dr. Venus Nicolino has learned how to help individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and their family members. Through therapy, they can experience less anxiety, sadness, and depression about their diagnosis.
“Helping individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as well as their family members, cope with anxiety, sadness, and depression about the diagnosis requires a multidimensional approach,” she says. “This approach combines emotional support, education, and practical strategies.”
Dr. Venus Nicolino’s tips for assisting:
- Provide accurate and transparent information about the disease, its progression, and available treatment options. Help individuals and their families understand what to expect and how to plan for the future.
- Offer emotional support through counseling services or support groups specifically tailored for individuals with Alzheimer’s and their families.
- Professional counselors or therapists can provide individual or family therapy to address specific emotional concerns.
“Supporting family caregivers is crucial since they often experience high levels of stress, burnout, and emotional strain,” Nicolino says. “Provide information on available caregiver support programs, respite care services, and counseling to help them cope with their emotions and develop effective coping mechanisms.”