Deborah Strickland of Melrose is less than 30 days away from moving in with her mother-in-law who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As a family caregiver and medical professional for 25 years, Strickland is familiar with the progressive brain disease that affects one in 37 Floridians.
However, even with this experience, the daunting task of becoming a full-time caregiver can be overwhelming. That’s why Stickland stopped by the Brain Bus, a large purple RV that travels the state sharing resources and information about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
The Brain Bus, supported by the Florida Chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association and funded by the state Legislature, travels the state to raise awareness of a disease that affects nearly 12% of adults over the age of 65. years in Alachua County. Statewide, more than 580,000 Floridians live with Alzheimer’s disease.
The disease is often not diagnosed until the warning signs are inevitable, attributed to normal aging or stress. Even when friends and family suspect something more serious, it can be difficult to get a diagnosis or figure out next steps. While Florida has the second highest prevalence of the disease in the country, resources are scattered, especially in rural areas.
For carers like Strickland, the challenge of becoming a full-time carer means completely rethinking everyday life.
“We are looking at the technology we need. We have a camera doorbell and a camera in the house. But even our appliances, the oven and the stove, will need locks and that’s something we need to look at,” Strickland said. “My husband and I are looking to the future. We know crises are coming but we want to do something now to prepare. Those that we can plan for.
A recent report by the Alzheimer’s Association shows that more than 800,000 Floridians are caregivers, resulting in 1.2 billion hours of unpaid care. As this number grows, many will be put into situations they are not prepared for. That’s why the Brain Bus, which travels to every corner of the state, is so essential to helping Floridians come up with a plan.
“There are some things around the house that you need to reconsider when you become a full-time caregiver,” said Rob Harris, Brain Bus driver and program manager. “If they used to drink blue Gatorade but opted for Windex instead, in their minds, it’s the same thing. Or use the microwave for the popcorn but instead of three minutes it’s 30 minutes. This means that you now have a fire on your hands.
But help is available. Resources are available through local, state, and federal agencies in addition to nonprofit organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association. Services such as respite care, when carers need a break, may be available free of charge to those who qualify, financial help with bills, online and in-person support groups and 24-hour counseling 24, 7 days a week.
“If there’s one thing we can do in Florida, it’s be aware of the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and act on them,” Harris said. “We owe it to our loved ones to make plans and prepare for what is to come.”
To learn more about the Brain Bus, call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900 or visit alz.org/CNFL.
Matt Eaton is Vice President of Florida Communications for the Alzheimer’s Association.
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