WASHINGTON (AP) — Elaine Vlieger is making some concessions to Alzheimer's. She's cut back on her driving, frozen dinners replace once elaborate cooking, and a son monitors her finances. But the Colorado woman lives alone and isn't ready to give up her house or her independence.
Some 800,000 people with Alzheimer's, roughly 1 in 7 Americans with the disease, live alone in their communities, according to surprising new data from the Alzheimer's Association. It's a different picture of the mind-destroying disease than the constant caregiving that eventually these people will need.
Census figures show that nearly one-third of all people 65 and older live alone, and by their 80s more than half of women do. Most older people say they want to stay in their homes as long as possible, and developing cognitive impairment doesn't automatically mean they can't, says Beth Kallmyer, a social worker who heads constituent services for the Alzheimer's Association.
The association's new analysis illustrates the balancing act between a patient's autonomy and safety. People with dementia who live alone tend to be less impaired than those who live with caregivers. But they are impaired, and studies show they have a greater risk of injuries, even accidental death, than patients who don't live alone.
The first National Alzheimer's Plan, due to be finalized this month, could help. It aims to increase screening of older adults to catch dementia earlier. It also urges doctors to help patients plan ahead for their future care needs while they still can. Kallmyer say that's absolutely critical for those who live alone.
Elaine Vlieger had been her late husband's caregiver during a long illness and knew the importance of that planning. After her Alzheimer's diagnosis 18 months ago, she designated power of attorney and who will help make her health care decisions, and added a son to her bank accounts.
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