Caregiver's Home Companion

Posted: August 08, 2006

Elderly Fear Alzheimer's More Than Cancer

Alzheimer’s disease has worked itself into the mental fabric of our nation, causing the elderly to fear it more than even cancer and Americans in general to fear the mind-robbing disease more than any condition other than cancer, according to a new MetLife/Harris Interactive poll.

In fact, from a caregiving standpoint, more than a third of all Americans know a family member or friend who has Alzheimer's, and nearly two-thirds believe they will become caregivers at some point for someone with Alzheimer's.

This grim portrait of Alzheimer’s mental, emotional and physical grip on U.S. society includes recognition by most Americans that they need to create a plan to address the possibility of the fatal progressive brain disorder in themselves or their family, but very few have taken steps to do so. In fact, more than 80% of Americans think it is important to plan ahead for the possibility of getting Alzheimer's disease, but nearly 90% have made no comprehensive plans.

Alzheimer's gradually destroys a person's memory and ability to reason, communicate and function. The disease is fatal, and there currently is no cure. An estimated 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease today, and the Alzheimer's Association estimates these numbers will grow to as many as 16 million by 2050.

Increasing age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's. One in 10 individuals over 65 and nearly half of those over 85 are affected. The Alzheimer's Association and the National Institute on Aging estimate that direct and indirect costs of current care are at least $100 billion annually. The MetLife/Harris survey results underscore not only the fears that people have about this illness, but also the disturbing fact that few are prepared to face a future that may include Alzheimer's.

Here are some key findings from the poll: 

Americans fear Alzheimer's disease. When people are asked to name the disease they are most afraid of getting from a list of illnesses, one out of five picks Alzheimer's, while only 14% worry about heart disease and 13% are concerned about stroke. Only cancer tops Alzheimer's among Americans in general, and among adults aged 55 and older, the fear getting Alzheimer's is greater than the fear of cancer.

Americans know little or nothing about Alzheimer's. While virtually all of those surveyed are aware of the disease (93%), almost three-quarters (74%) say they know only a little or nothing at all about Alzheimer's.

One-third of Americans say they have direct experience with Alzheimer's disease. One in three Americans (35%) say they have a family member or friend with Alzheimer's.

Most Americans believe they will become a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's. More than three out of five people worry that they will have to eventually provide or care for someone with the disease.

The MetLife Foundation/ Harris Interactive survey, titled "MetLife Foundation Alzheimer's Survey: What America Thinks," included questions about how people view Alzheimer's disease, what they know about it and what they are doing to plan for a future that may include the deadly illness.

The findings are summarized in a report available at the MetLife website.

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