No time for a sabbatical

Seven years ago, the Citrus County Chronicle asked if we might submit a monthly column about Alzheimer’s and dementia. We were thrilled and honored to be offered this opportunity. We took on this task, and have never missed a month. This month’s is our 85th column.
In academia, it is customary after seven years of hard work to take a year off. We call this a “sabbatical,” deriving from the Hebrew term sabbat, meaning “to rest.” Oh, I wish it were possible!

When we launched the column in January, 2016, one of our objectives was to convey factual information in plain language with the hope of dispelling some of the fear, shame, and misinformation that surrounds the complex and little-understood condition we call dementia. I think we have made progress in this respect. Citrus County has become quite open in its willingness to talk about and take steps to make life better for its families living with dementia.

Nearly a hundred Citrus businesses and churches have taken training to become certified Dementia Friendly. County agencies, including the libraries and Clerk of Courts, have sponsored training for their employees. We are moving forward with a plan for a new better Baker Act facility that will include features that provide more humane and appropriate service to our citizens over the age of 65.

A second objective of our monthly column was to warn of the alarming projected growth of dementia. I’ll just repeat here the second paragraph of my first column:
The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is projected to soar to 7.1 million by 2025; a 40 percent increase from the 5.1 million affected now. By 2050 it is projected that there will be 13.8 million people with dementia.

Actually, the projections have since been revised upward, and the estimate for 2050 is now 15 million! Seven years ago, dementia practitioners, including myself, were describing this trend as a “tsunami” that was still just off shore, but certain to arrive soon.

Well, friends, the tsunami has arrived. Driven by an aging Baby Boom, our population living with dementia is steadily increasing and will continue to increase for the next two decades. The problem is that we, as a nation, are not even close to being prepared. Our medical professionals still receive relatively little training in dementia science, and our state-approved curriculum for care is 20 years old and woefully outdated. While private and public spending has significantly increased to support research for a cure, we have not had commensurate attention to funding to pay for care.

Though we may be proud that Citrus County seems to be ahead of the national curve in its attention to our families living with dementia, we cannot ignore that we have problems as well. Due to enforced isolation in response to COVID, our quality of care declined, as it did throughout the state and the nation. Daily care – medical and social – took a back seat to our need to avoid contagion. Unfortunately, the standards and practices of care have not rebounded in part because there is a shortage of qualified personnel willing to work for care industry wage scales.

Furthermore, over the last five years the number of memory care beds in Citrus County assisted living communities has declined. Clearly, we need to reverse this trend, especially since our county is expecting an immediate and possibly long-term growth in population.
So, while I think the past seven years have brought a lot of change that Citrus County can be proud of in respect to service to its families living with dementia, we certainly have not earned a sabbatical.

Now is not the time to rest, especially if we really believe we all deserve the best.

Until next time remember: “We all deserve the Best”
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