At our age, the threat of dementia still seems remote – something we really don't have to worry about for another couple of decades. But , in fact, dementia can strike when you are in your 50s and it's particularly devastating because the body is usually quite strong as the mind gets weaker and weaker.
The New York Times today tells how public safety officials in northern Virginia (and around the country) are trying to deal with a surge in "wanderers," people with dementia who leave home in search of something – often a chore from the past that they think they need to complete now. One of the most heartbreaking stories is that of Freda Machett, 60, who has left home dozens of times in the last few years, requiring police searches. "It's a cruel disease," her husband, John, told The Times.
Indeed, it is. And in most cases, it's spouses like John Machett who end up caring for people with early-onset Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Their health is at risk as well, according to study in this month's issue of the Journal of American Geriatrics Society. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Utah State looked at 255 people with dementia and found that those whose spouses had already been diagnosed were six times as likely to develop the condition themselves compared to someone whose spouse did not have dementia.
The researchers speculate that the stress of caregiving might be responsible for this increased risk but no one knows exactly how that stress increases a spouses vulnerability. It's a fertile subject for future study. In the meantime, it's important for all us to help caregivers. If there's someone in your life who fits that description, here is some useful information on the stresses of caregiving from the Alzheimer's Association.