“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.” — Paul Simon, Kodachrome.
Plague — infectious fever caused by the bacillus Yersinia pestis, a bacterium transmitted from rodents to humans by the bite of infected fleas — was the cause of some of the most-devastating epidemics in history.
It was the disease behind the Black Death of the 14th century, when as much as one-third of Europe’s population died. Huge pandemics also arose in Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, eventually spreading around the world and causing millions of deaths. Today, thanks to strict public health measures and modern antibiotics, plague no longer strikes great numbers of people, nor is it as deadly for those whom it strikes.
Yet, today, the baby boomer generation has its own version of the plague. We call it Alzheimer’s.
Characterized by a ferocious cycle of cognitive dysfunction and memory loss, boomers scramble for clinically-effective strategies against Alzheimer’s, but to date, have had little success in taming this memory monster and elder-killer.
Additionally,, I’ve become aware of the contempt and derision that many assisted living communities have for residents with cognitive problems. There is often little patience for those in a long-term care setting, particularly those residents that are “repeaters.” (ie. “Hi, Honey, where are you from?” repeated over and over) When I first entered assisted living 14 years ago, Alzheimer’s was an exception not the rule. In the last decade, however, that trend seems to have reversed itself.
Why are these demographics troubling? Because the “memory units” of large assisted living communities and skilled nursing care facilities offer a much greater potential for elder abuse and neglect than their memory-prime counterparts. Even more disturbing is the reality that 80% of all long-term care is provided in the home.
On the “plus” side of the ledger, we’ve brought some new, therapeutic modalities on-line, and people like Jackie Pinkowitz have joined the conversation.