BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Experts at Pennington Biomedical Center estimate in 35 years there will be three times as many cases of Alzheimer's disease and fewer than half of the amount of caregivers needed to take care of them.
"Make it perfectly clear we have no way to prevent this or treat it currently," said Jeffery Keller, a Pennington Biomedical researcher. "The amount of people who are going to have this disease is going to cripple our medical system as well as our society.
"We are not equipped to handle keeping all of these people in the home. We can't build our way out of this problem, it's happening so quick, so it is a problem that we have to fix."
The director of Alzheimer's Services, Barbara Auten, says the disease takes a toll on everyone.
"James Carville once said it's actually contagious because it affects everybody in the family," Auten said. "People are going to want to age in place and be at home, that seems to be the trend as opposed to long-term-care.
"We're going to need both and there's not going to be enough and so that's one of the reasons why it's so important for us to be here for that individual care giver that needs support. They need that education and support to learn about the disease, how to care for them, how to manage the stress and how to manage the characteristics of the disease as it advances."
77-year-old James Thompson enrolled himself in an Alzheimer's study at Pennington after being diagnosed with the disease. His daughter, Kelli Stevens, also participates in the study.
"He forgot a couple of major things," Stevens said. "He went fishing one day with my husband, and they cleaned the fish when they got back. The next morning he was like, 'You know we need to clean the fish' and Todd was like we did that last night and dad didn't remember.
"One of the great things about dad, when this happened to him, he's the one who came [to Pennington Research Center] and signed up. He said 'I want to participate in anything you're doing.' He told me 'I want to do this because it can help other people.'"
Keller says they need more people like Thompson, willing to step out of the shadows and get tested.
"Even in this community you'd be surprised how many people do not want people to know they have Alzheimer's disease," Keller said. "They don't tell certain family members and friends, largely because of the stigma this disease has in this community as well as other communities."
Thompson says in the beginning the effects of the disease were awful.
"We caught it early. By the time we really realize what it was, we were working here and trying to help other people and me," Thompson said.
Keller says the disease is cruel in many ways, especially in the way it can spread in families both physically and emotionally.
"Think about the person with the disease, they are largely stripped of who they are" Keller said. "The family, friends and everyone in the community are the ones who really suffer as much or more as the individual who has the disease.
"As the disease takes its impact on that person, they lose awareness and understanding of where they are and what's going on around them, but that family watches what appears to be the same person, but they're no longer present. It's a cruel, cruel disease in that way."