Billie Andrews will be the first to admit she doesn’t recall things like she once did.
“My memory is not so good,” Andrews said with a smile. “My brain gets things mixed up.”
Andrews, who will celebrate her 96th birthday in May, lives alone in her Haltom City home, but her 64-year-old son, David, lives nearby.
In that sense, she’s lucky.
She has someone keeping an eye on her daily and also has food provided by Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County. Meals on Wheels America has recently drawn national attention for proposed cuts to Community Block Grants under President Trump’s proposed budget. A portion of Meals on Wheels America’s national budget comes from government grants.
“It’s a difficult process,” David Andrews said. “It makes me sad. It’s incremental. It’s not like a light switch going off. It’s like a bell curve. It speeds up. It’s an incremental decline.”
Billie Andrews’ situation isn’t unique.
Of Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County’s 2,300 active clients, 597 have been diagnosed with dementia or memory issues.
In Texas, the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is projected to increase from 360,000 in 2017 to 490,000 by 2025, according to the 2017 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report from the Alzheimer’s Association.
It’s a challenge for the relatives who care for them.
According to the report, 35 percent of caregivers said their health has gotten worse while caring for an Alzheimer’s patient, compared with 19 percent for caregivers of non-Alzheimer’s patients. There have also been mixed results from studies on whether it can eventually lead to an early death for the caregiver.
“What really concerns us is there are a lot of family caregivers who actually die before the one they care for, from stress-related illnesses,” said Don Smith of the United Way of Tarrant County Area Agency on Aging.
The Alzheimer’s Association report said family members, friends and unpaid caregivers provide 83 percent of the help to older adults in the U.S. Of that, nearly half, 46 percent, care for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
David Andrews can relate.
“It’s the hardest job I have ever done, and I was construction worker myself,” he said. “It’s a work in progress. It can change at any moment.”
But David Andrews said having Meals on Wheels provide food in the middle of the day gives him a break. And it gives his mother contact with other people.
“I think it’s one of the most important things,” he said. “It’s someone other than myself coming in.”
Billie Andrews has never formally been diagnosed with dementia, her son said.
Until she was 90, she could still fix herself something to eat and have a degree of independence.
But as she declined, David Andrews, who had his own painting business, retired to care for her.
“I fight with myself whether I should have institutionalized earlier,” David Andrews said. “I’m going to stick with my guns and say I’m glad I kept her home. So far, she does what I tell her to do.”
Steven Cook, vice president of client management at Meals on Wheels, said finding clients with memory issues isn’t unusual. Some have relatively minor lapses, while a few are far more serious.
“Sometimes we see things that are pretty glaring,” Cook said. “When I was a caseworker, a man invited me into the kitchen and had a paper plate on an electric stove and it was just starting to smoke. I reached over and put the plate in the sink. It was just starting to burn through the paper plate.”
In that instance, a call to the man’s daughter took care of the issue.
David Andrews has banned his mom from the kitchen and disconnected the stove.
“As long as she can do the the three T’s — television, telephone and toilet — we’re good,” David Andrews said. “But that could change tomorrow.”
The 2017 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report paints a sobering picture:
5 million people in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s.
$259 billion is the expected cost of Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses in 2017.
$1.1 trillion is the estimate of those costs by 2050.
1 million new cases a year are expected by mid-century. By 2030, the U.S. population age 65 and over is expected to double, meaning there will be even more Americans with Alzheimer’s — as many as 16 million by mid-century.
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Alzheimer’s Symposium in Arlington
The Alzheimer’s Association North Texas Chapter is hosting its 14th annual spring symposium 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. March 29 at the Arlington Convention Center. The event gives caregivers and healthcare professionals information from experts in the field. For more information or to register, call 1-800-272-3900 or visit www.alz.org/northcentraltexas.