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What Alzheimer’s Teaches About Chronic Disease

What Alzheimer’s Teaches About Chronic Disease

Chronic disease is on the rise. “Of the population 50 years and older, the number with at least one chronic disease is estimated to increase by 99.5% from 71.522 million in 2020 to 142.66 million by 2050,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

Alzheimer’s is a chronic disease that many seniors dread and one which can be particularly challenging and heartbreaking for family members and loved ones to deal with.

While there is no erasing the pain that can come with watching someone you hold dear struggle with a debilitating illness—understanding the dynamics of chronic disease can help you and your loved one.

Living with a Chronic Disease Can Be Lonely

Chronic disease separates one from all the ‘normal’ people. In the case of Alzheimer’s, the feeling of being seen as crazy can be particularly isolating.

However, almost all chronic diseases come with this dynamic. The uninformed might unintentionally make assumptions that ‘it can’t be that bad’, ‘you don’t look sick’, or ‘just be positive.’

While maintaining a positive mindset is certainly helpful, these kinds of comments can feel alienating.

The bottom line is that while most people are only well-meaning, not many know what it is like to live with a chronic illness and the inevitable feeling that results from this is isolation and a degree of loneliness.

Grieving Is Healthy

Losing one’s health—and in the case of Alzheimer’s, your memory and cognitive function—is something that will at some level inspire a feeling of grief. This will understandably occur in both the sufferer and those close to them.

While it might feel necessary to fight feelings of grief, suppressing it can merely lead to delayed and distorted forms of grief that are even tougher to deal with.

If you have a loved one that has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of chronic disease, try to look for ways to grieve together. This can ease the loneliness of the grief for both of you and work to establish a feeling of bonding over the difficult time.

Chronic Disease Has a Stigma

Even though 1 in 3 adults worldwide suffer from chronic disease, there’s still a stigma around chronic illnesses. Research has shown that people living with chronic diseases experience “anticipated stigma”, a belief that they will face discrimination and stereotyping in the future.

Put simply, this means that the dread of discrimination can account for a very significant amount of suffering in those with chronic ailments.

Alzheimer’s, in particular, comes with its own stigma – that of being crazy, losing your mind, being unbalanced, etc.

Living with a Chronic Disease Is Expensive

Not only is living with chronic disease lonely, isolating, and scary, but it is also expensive. Almost all chronic diseases come with large medical bills.

Alzheimer’s is no exception. It has topped both heart disease and cancer as the most ‘expensive’ chronic illness, with some of the highest costs associated.

The Milken Institute estimates the total cumulative economic impact of treating people with dementia will reach $368 billion by 2040. More than 70% of these costs are attributed to the treatment of women.

Simple Pleasures Are Everything

Although chronic disease comes with a lot of very heavy facts to handle, there are also some heart-lifting lessons to be learned.

One of these is that simple pleasures are everything for those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of chronic illness. When life becomes weighted with large amounts of struggle, often it is the smallest things that can bring moments of joy and pleasure.

There’s Always Something You Can Do

Another lesson that Alzheimer’s can teach us is that no matter how bad a chronic illness may get, there is always something you can do.

If Alzheimer’s has progressed to the later stages, and your loved one is not able to speak anymore, you can still converse with them by acknowledging the sounds they are saying, and responding by directing and carrying the conversation.

On the other hand, if someone close to you is in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s you can support them with cognitive coaching or group stimulation classes.

There Can Still Be Happy Times with Alzheimer’s

Although Alzheimer’s is a ravaging illness, and chronic disease in all forms can bring hardship and emotional pain for all involved, do not forget that there can still be happy times.

These can come at the least expected moments, so stay open to them, and celebrate them when they do happen. These happy times amid adversity can be incredibly heart-lifting, more so because they come out of the blue.

If you are looking for support for your loved one who might be worried about Alzheimer’s, or has been diagnosed with it or its symptoms, please feel free to browse our programs, learn more about what we do, or contact us if you have any questions. 

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