HAMDPEN, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Dementia is a disease that has no cure, and a number of medical experts say our health care system is not prepared to handle the growing number of aging americans who will be diagnosed with it in the coming decades.
The statistics in a Rand Coporation study published in the New England Journal of Medicine are troubling. By 2040, the number of people diagnosed with Dementia will grow from 3.8 million to 9.1 million people.
In 2010 Dementia care cost between $159 and $215 billion dollars
in 2040 that number is expected to jump to between $379 billion and 500 billion dollars.
What these numbers don't take into account is the toll it takes on families who care for loved ones with dementia. People like Karen Barnett.
Karen moved in with her parents at Avalon Village in Hampden. Caring for them both has become her full time job. Her father, Bill, who is in his nineties, has Dementia. Her mother, Cecilia, a retired school teacher, has Parkinson's Disease.
Karen says caring for them requires constant planning, routines, and making sure everything is always in the same place.
"For instance I know he's going to try to do the dishes so I'll lay a mat in the sink before I sit down to eat so that when he gets through and he brings the dishes over and drops them in nothing's going to break," Karen explains.
Karen does get help. A caregiver from Loving Touch In Home Care named Doug Kesseli comes by each week to help with light housework, and doctors appointments. He even takes her father for car rides to give Karen a break. But all that help costs money, and Karen says health insurance doesn't cover any of those in home care costs. It's coming out of her parents savings, and she's not working or generating income either.
"Being 60 years old and between that and losing job skills I need to think about what my future holds."
Karen's not alone. Many families are going through the same struggles. Dr. Cliff Singer is the Chief of Geriatric Health and Nueropsychiatry at Acadia Hospital in Bangor. He says the health care system is woefully inadequate to address this looming health care crisis.
"It is a national issue and we're just not prepared," Dr. Singer said, "Hospitals and nursing homes are not good places for people with dementia nobody really wants to be in a hospital or nursing home but if you have severe memory impairment or problems with perception and learning you really don't do well in those environments."
Dr. Singer says solutions include smaller scale facilities that are more like homes, better treatments and early detection so people can stay at home longer, and more funding for research.
"What's the alternative?" asked Dr. Singer. "Families are really stressed and strained from having to take care of people at home." Many families step up and do it but it takes a big toll and sometimes there's isn't family to take care of them for many people or the family breaks down it's just too much."
That's a point Karen Barnett can agree with. She loves her parents dearly, but wishes there were more help.