Approximately 50,000 people in San Diego have Alzheimer's disease, the fourth-leading cause of death in the county, according to the Alzheimer's Association/San Diego Imperial Chapter. Calculate the number of family members, friends, neighbors, employers and acquaintances of each of those individuals, and the number of lives impacted by the disease skyrockets.
"By 2030, there will be over 90,000 people in San Diego with the disease," said Beth Davidson, director of resource development for the organization. "In that time, the number of Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders with the disease is expected to triple."
Most individuals with Alzheimer's receive care at home from at least two caregivers, 75 percent of whom are women. Because many of these caregivers miss work, leave a job or go part time, California employers lose about $1.4 billion annually in productivity.
The devastation of Alzheimer's disease is not limited to economics. Both those with the disease and caregivers are at increased risk for health complications, the latter being vulnerable to depression and stress-related illnesses.
These are the many reasons why the local Alzheimer's Association dedicates much of its resources toward the education and support of caregivers, both family members and professionals.
"They're not in it alone," Davidson said.
"All of our programs are provided to families at no cost," Davidson said. "Last year, we served more than 34,000 people."
Since its founding in 1981 by Luna Odland and Anna Tucker, the Alzheimer's Association/San Diego Imperial Chapter has continued to develop and broaden its services to meet the varied needs of the community.
It offers more than 40 support groups targeted for special demographics, such as Spanish speakers, early stage dementia and younger onset families; a 24-hour help line, (800) 272-3900; care consultations; community and professional education; brain health workshops; a speakers bureau; MedicAlert+SafeReturn; and Memories in the Making, an art program for people with Alzheimer's disease at more than 20 locations throughout the county.
The bulk of services are targeted toward family members in an effort to help them cope with the extraordinary burden of care giving.
"The nature of the disease means that, in many cases, those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease will spend many years providing increasing levels of supervision and personal care," Davidson said.
"The quality of knowledge and care giving certainly has improved over the years as we learn more about the disease, but the cuts to state programs, such as adult day care centers and in-home respite services, are devastating to families, especially low-income families, who rely on these services."
Making it all possible
Funding to support the Alzheimer's Association San Diego/Imperial Chapter's programs and services is received from multiple sources — 60 percent from private donors, corporate grants, gifts and foundations; and 40 percent from fundraisers, such as Our Bright Future Ungala. Unplugged, set for 6 p.m. May 14 at the home of the Black family in Rancho Santa Fe.
"There's not much about Alzheimer's that's bright, but we want to look to the future," Davidson said.