In Kentucky, 11,430 people with Alzheimer's live without someone designated as their caregiver, and that number is likely to rise as the number of people with the disease continues to grow.
A national report released Wednesday by the Alzheimer's Association predicted a 31 percent increase in the number of Alzheimer patients in Kentucky. The national report says some 97,000 Kentuckians will be diagnosed with the disease by 2025.
"It's sad news for Kentuckians and Americans in general," said Teri Shirk, president of the Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. "This is a looming crisis."
The numbers are rising because of the aging of the baby boomers, increased awareness of the disease and better tools for diagnosis, she said.
People with Alzheimer's living alone can have very real consequences for the individual and the community, Shirk added, because they are at high risk of not taking care of themselves. In addition, those people are at a higher risk of wandering away from their home and suffering, or even dying, from malnutrition.
The report can be a wakeup call for people who have friends or family with the diagnosis. Now is the time, Shirk said, to make sure that there is a plan for the person to get care as their disease progresses.
The report is a reminder of the need for more research into the prevention and cure of Alzheimer's, she added.
"There's definitely a strong need for research, that's obvious," said Linda Van Eldik, director of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. "It's important that people understand that the research has shown that changes in the brain that are relevant to Alzheimer's seem to occur up to a decade before any memory changes happen."
That means there is an increased focus on prevention, she said.
"It's been estimated that if you could just delay the progression of the disease you would save billions" in caring for people with Alzheimer's and decrease the burden on unpaid caregivers.
People should take concerns about memory problems to their family doctors, but they can also seek the review of specialists in Alzheimer's, like those at Sanders-Brown, she said.