The summer solstice on June 20 marked the longest day of the year following the longest year of a lifetime for many. We heard a lot about parents not having childcare and elders not seeing their grandchildren, but everyone in the senior living industry also knows this has been an especially difficult time for those caring for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s.
Caregivers, who are often overlooked, were stranded without family networks, adult day services or the ability to move into assisted living or skilled nursing when in need. Alzheimer’s care is an extremely isolating experience, and each day can feel like an eternity — even without a pandemic.
“Since the Alzheimer’s Association is working so hard to raise awareness on The Longest Day, I can think of no better time to discuss how we can better support those living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers,” says George Netscher, founder and CEO of memory care-focused health care technology company SafelyYou. “We need to think about this now, because there were seven potential caregivers for every person over 80 in 2015. However, there will only be four potential caregivers by 2030.”
The FDA approval of Aducanumab — a drug aimed at slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s and the first drug approved for Alzheimer’s in the last 18 years — may lessen some challenges, but many will still exist, Netscher says. He notes that developing therapies for Alzheimer’s is challenging due to a lack of basic understanding about how the brain really works.
“Individuals with Alzheimer’s are challenging to support on the technology front as well,” Netscher says. “I’ve spent years and years working to develop technology that can help in some way, but how do you build technology that can help someone with cognitive impairment who can’t learn to use a new tool? We need more than the ‘I’ve fallen and can’t get up’ technology.”
SafelyYou’s contribution to the Alzheimer’s challenge is its system of AI-enabled cameras, which operators are using to detect and prevent falls by determining root cause. Products such as Google Glass bring the hope that they could provide a cognitive assist device, but the problems faced by those with Alzheimer’s navigating their daily lives are so open-ended and prone to change as the disease continues along its insidious path, that any new solution quickly becomes less helpful with time.
Netscher says that little has been done from a technology standpoint that improves life for those with Alzheimer’s or their caregivers.
“If we can develop a COVID-19 vaccine with a new mRNA technology in under a year, then, surely, we can find ways to provide more and more scalable ways to support those with Alzheimer’s,” he says. “Frankly we must, or the health system will crumble under the weight of the need as populations across the world continue to age.
If we could build care networks where individuals living all over the country and the world could increasingly take shifts and provide meaningful support for a loved one in need, it would be life-changing for caregivers.”
Netscher sees the liberation that everyday people are having in the summer of 2021, now that vaccinations are allowing some degree of normalcy, and he sees the connection between that feeling and the desire that caregivers have to increased freedom as well.
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“What fills me with hope, ironically, is just how many people are affected,” he says. “I pursued a career in Alzheimer’s care to try to build something for my mom. With one in three people over age 85 affected with Alzheimer’s disease, the number of us seeking to make the world better for our own loved ones will only grow and grow until the disease no longer feels like an unstoppable force. It’s not the unstoppable force — we are.”
This article is sponsored by SafelyYou. To get started in your community download our latest whitepaper for Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness month, “Dementia Through Their Eyes – Increase Dementia Awareness to Improve Level of Care and Attract New Move-Ins” — which also features a Best Practice Spotlight on Merrill Gardens.
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When not covering senior news, Jack Silverstein is a sports historian and staff writer for SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron, making regular guest spots on WGN and 670-AM, The Score. His work has appeared in Chicago Tribune, RedEye Chicago, ChicagoNow, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Chicago Magazine, and others.