With more than 390,000 Texans age 65 or older living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, and expected to increase nearly 30% by 2025, there is a pressing need for inclusive communities that support families touched by the degenerative diseases.
San Antonio was the third Texas city to earn the designation “Dementia Friendly City” by having a community grassroots effort working to welcome and support those with the condition, and provide helpful resources to caregivers. The designation is from the national nonprofit support organization Dementia Friendly America.
On Oct. 4, San Antonio District 8 City Councilman Manny Pelaez presented a proclamation from Mayor Ron Nirenberg to the advisory council of the local initiative, Dementia Friendly San Antonio, recognizing the national designation and urging support for the group. The presentation took place at the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing, whose Caring for the Caregiver program collaborates with the community effort.
“I … hereby recognize San Antonio as a Dementia Friendly City and call upon its citizens to learn more about dementia, to embrace and support those living with dementia, and their caregivers, to enjoy a high quality of life, with meaning, purpose and value,” the proclamation reads. “I call upon our citizens to support the work of Dementia Friendly San Antonio in creating an inclusive community for everyone touched by dementia.”
Carole White, PhD, RN, director of Caring for the Caregiver at UT Health San Antonio, and adviser to Dementia Friendly San Antonio, said the mayor’s proclamation comes at a critical time.
“It is a forceful call to action for San Antonio to continue wrapping its arms around those living with, and caring for, individuals with this urgent health challenge,” Dr. White said. “As Alzheimer’s and other dementias are on the rise nationally and in Texas, a lot of us have been affected by these diseases or know someone who has.”
Numbers tell the story
The numbers from the proclamation explain the urgency:
- There are 5.8 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States, and unless a cure is found, it is estimated that as many as 14 million will be affected by 2050.
- Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.
- More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, providing more than 18.5 billion hours of unpaid care, and in Texas, more than 1.4 million caregivers provide unpaid care valued at $20 billion.
- The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that direct costs of caring for those with Alzheimer’s in the U.S. will reach $1 trillion by 2050.
UT Health San Antonio is working to stem this tide through its Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases. The institute provides the latest evidence-based care, conducts research and educates the next generation of health professionals for the field.
Led by Dr. White, the Caring for the Caregiver program provides regularly scheduled training classes for new caregivers, social opportunities for caregivers and their families and even a choir called Grace Notes. It supports the Dementia Friendly San Antonio advisory council and is a community champion of the effort.
The program partners with other active members of the initiative including the Alzheimer’s Association-San Antonio & South Texas Chapter, City of San Antonio, Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG), Catholic Charities, WellMed, Gainwel and individual caregivers.
“We all recognize the benefit of a community that is more inclusive, respectful and safe, where everyone feels included, engaged and supported,” Dr. White said.
For more information on what makes a dementia-friendly community and how to support Dementia Friendly San Antonio, go to utcaregivers.org/dementia-friendly-san-antonio/ where there also is a special video from Dementia Friendly America on ways to provide inclusive support for those living with the disease. Phone contact is Jennifer Brackett, MS, 210-450-8715.