If you look at our city’s greatest successes, they have been accomplished by individuals and groups working together toward a common goal. A great example of this is the announcement that San Antonio is now a Dementia Friendly City. This designation, from Dementia City America, was announced June 15 by our School of Nursing, which has been leading this initiative with the help of several partners. They include University Health System, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, the City of San Antonio, the Alzheimer’s Association and many others.
This designation recognizes that our city has a grassroots initiative in place to build a welcoming and supportive environment for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and to provide helpful resources for their caregivers.
While the designation is a reason to celebrate, it also is a call to action for San Antonio to wrap its arms around those living with―and caring for―individuals with this health challenge. As Alzheimer’s and other dementias are on the rise nationally and in Texas, most of us have been touched by these diseases or know someone who has. Perhaps your grandparent had Alzheimer’s. Maybe you are caring for a parent with dementia while raising your children at the same time. Have you recently received the diagnosis yourself?
I say this because there is an approaching “tsunami” of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia as our population ages. Statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association show that:
- In 2019, 5.8 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s disease. This includes 200,000 people younger than age 65.
- Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and has an economic burden of $290 billion.
- Texas ranks fourth nationally for the prevalence of Alzheimer’s, with 390,000 individuals living with the disease.
- The state is second in the number of Alzheimer’s-related deaths, with a 180% increase from 2000 to 2015.
- Hispanics are about 1.5 times more likely to develop dementia, making San Antonio and South Texas particularly vulnerable to this disease.
- Nationally, more than 16.2 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. That includes 1.4 million unpaid caregivers in Texas.
- In the U.S., unpaid caregivers provide an estimated 18.5 billion hours of care each year, valued at nearly $234 billion.
- Texas caregivers provided 1.6 billion hours of unpaid care at approximately $20.6 billion per year.
We at UT Health San Antonio are doing our best to stem this tide through our Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases, where we are providing the latest evidence-based care, conducting research and educating the next generation of health professionals to care for this growing segment of the population.
Through the Caring for the Caregiver program, led by Carole White, Ph.D., RN, our School of Nursing is providing regularly scheduled training classes for new caregivers, social opportunities for caregivers and their loved ones, and even a choir called Grace Notes. Caring for the Caregiver supports the Dementia Friendly City advisory board and is the community champion for this initiative.
Thanks to the Dementia Friendly initiative, there is a strong core of organizations looking for additional ways to embrace those living with dementia and their caregivers, but there is always room for more.
Our colleagues at University Hospital System have the distinction of being the first Dementia Friendly hospital system in Texas. They are training their nursing staff to recognize dementia and support families while their loved one is hospitalized. They also are providing Alzheimer’s and dementia information in their clinics.
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office is working with our School of Nursing to provide training for deputies on how to recognize dementia in order to provide appropriate support to those community members and their families. They also initiated a vehicle sticker program for families living with Alzheimer’s to help law enforcement officers recognize that a person with dementia may be on board.
The San Antonio & South Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association provides statistics on these diseases, and supports those who are diagnosed, their caregivers and the medical professionals who care for them. The organization raises funds for needed research, provides support groups, education programs and volunteer opportunities.
However, some of the most important voices we need to hear are yours and those of families living with Alzheimer’s disease. You can help by thoughtfully listening to the concerns of your patients, learning more about the community resources available for them and investigating ways to refer your patients and their caregivers to research studies. Through collaboration, we can better understand these diseases and help our patients live through these challenging times.
I am proud of the work being done by so many members of the UT Health San Antonio family to improve the quality of life for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, while always keeping in mind the welfare of their families and caregivers. We will continue to work tirelessly to tackle and eventually annihilate this terrible disease.
We invite you to join the Dementia Friendly City initiative, and learn about the many resources available to family caregivers, by visiting utcaregivers.org or calling (210) 450-8862. Information about research and patient care is available through the Biggs Institute at biggsinstitute.org and (210) 450-9960.