It is an epidemic. It’s estimated that 5.4 million Americans had Alzheimer’s in 2016. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that every 66 seconds someone in the United States develops dementia and that by midcentury someone will develop dementia every 33 seconds. This is an epidemic far from peaking.
Dementia is also one of the most expensive medical conditions we experience, surpassing the cost of cancer and heart disease. The estimated cost of dementia care for families and governments in 2016 is $236 billion, with more than half of that being covered by families. And yet, nearly 1 in 5 Medicare dollars are spent on people with dementia, a number that will increase to 1 in 3 dollars by 2050.
Somehow we have to make providing dementia care more economical—both for families and our governments. Yes, we need a cure, but in the meantime there are far too many families struggling to care for their loved ones at home and in facilities, and being bankrupted in the process.
Here at DAWN, our primary purpose is to help families care for their loved ones with less stress and fewer dementia-related behaviors, at home if possible, because we believe in helping families preserve their elders’ dignity and autonomy, not just meet their physical needs. Our secondary goal is to lower the cost of dementia care.
Late in the summer of 2010, when I volunteered to help a neighbor who had Alzheimer’s, I had no idea I would be writing about a less expensive way to provide dementia care six years later. I just wanted to help my neighbor stay in the home she loved. But within weeks I had another neighbor asking for help, and another, and another, and within a few months I needed to hire staff to help me. I kept trying to figure out how to truly help these courageous and admirable people who had given so much in their earlier years to their families, churches, community and country. I couldn’t stand by and see them forced into institutional care.
At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew I’d once experienced something similar to the emotional distress I saw my clients experiencing as they tried to function with memory and thought losses. Then it hit me: they were experiencing the opposite of what I felt when I began law school. Studying law required me to use my rational thought processes almost exclusively, while my dementia clients were losing rational thought and being forced to rely heavily on their intuitive thought processes. I found being forced to think in a different manner very uncomfortable—and so did they.
Once I saw the pattern of distress, I began training my staff to interact with our clients in ways that helped them live intuitively and feel more secure and happy. I needed a program simple enough to train new staff members quickly. The result was seven classes about the seven tools of the DAWN Method—simple techniques organized in a manner that makes identifying emotional needs and responding to behaviors easy.
Any family can benefit from using the DAWN tools. When people are happy, they don’t act out, which lowers caregiver stress and enables families to keep loved ones at home longer. The end result is less long-term care expense for families and for governments.