And now David Cassidy.
The list of high-profile baby boomers diagnosed with early-onset dementia will grow in the coming years — and with it, serve as a stark reminder that the U.S. will be battling dementia on a large scale for decades to come.
With each passing day, some 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 — a demographic trend that continues until 2030. And with an estimated 4 to 5 million folks currently afflicted with some form of dementia, advocacy organizations estimate that, absent the development of more effective medications, that number could double or even triple by 2050.
When Cassidy, 66, spoke at length on the “Dr. Phil” show recently, he revealed that he received his diagnosis in 2014.
“When friends of yours or family members begin to say to you, ‘Remember, I just told you this two days ago,’ and there’s no memory of it — that’s when I began to be very concerned.”
The singer — who has publicly battled alcohol and substance abuse issues — said he went public with his condition because, after a recent performance in which he looked and sounded unsteady and ultimately fell off the stage, he didn’t want fans to think he’d relapsed. He had planned to stop performing after 2017 — but will likely curtail his touring immediately.
Both Cassidy’s mother and grandfather succumbed to dementia (his mom in 2012), so the former “Partridge Family” star has no illusions about what awaits him. He recounted on “Dr. Phil” that, after watching his mother’s heart-wrenching decline, he didn’t want his son Beau to have a similar experience, so he said to the 26-year-old, “I want you to promise me you’ll find a way to let me go. Don’t let me live like that.”
Cassidy being in this stage of the disease — that is, cognizant that he’s declining but still lucid and able to function — means he almost certainly requires assistance managing his daily affairs.
“When people are in the early stages of dementia, they’ll need help remembering things they used to take for granted — paying bills, taking medication, operating a household appliance,” said Vish Rajan, owner of SYNERGY HomeCare of Delray Beach. “What we do with our early-stage dementia clients is have a registered nurse assess their specific needs based on their symptoms and then develop a plan of care.”
This would include a checklist for every room in the home, Rajan said.
“If the person is a ‘wanderer,’ we would want to secure all doors and windows and make sure that car keys aren’t accessible. In bathrooms and the kitchen, stored items need to be labeled — and often need to be secured if the client is at risk for misusing something.”
This is especially vital when it comes to medications, razors, knives and the like.
With certain forms of dementia, clients can experience hallucinations, so one of the things that caregivers need to be aware of is how light enters the home.
“If a client is prone to having hallucinations, we want to limit any shadows that he or she could mistake for a person or animal,” Rajan said.
For people who suspect that they or a loved one are experiencing any signs of dementia (memory loss, confusion, difficulty with speech, focus and/or reasoning), Rajan urged immediate cognitive testing.
“Dementia is progressive, so it’s best to identify the condition — and create a care plan — as soon as possible.”
Dementia can be caused by any of the following progressive neurological conditions:
▪ Alzheimer’s disease: Some 70 percent of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s, making it the most common cause.
▪ Parkinson’s disease: This disorder of the nervous system affects movement and in latter stages causes extreme tremors.
▪ Huntington’s disease: This is an inherited condition in which nerve cells in the brain break down over time.
▪ Lewy body dementia (LBD): LBD is an umbrella term for dementia associated with the presence of Lewy bodies (abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein) in the brain and is often accompanied by Parkinson’s disease (as it was for Robin Williams).
▪ Vascular dementia: This is a subtly progressive worsening of memory and other cognitive functions caused by chronic, reduced blood flow in the brain and is often seen in survivors of severe strokes.
▪ Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE): This is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic sub-concussive blows to the head.
Steve Dorfman writes for The Palm Beach Post.