There are more than 5 million people in the U.S. living with Alzheimer's disease, and more than 15.4 million caregivers providing unpaid care for these and other individuals, according to the Alzheimer's Association. The illness has a major impact on senior living in America, and for many Alzheimer's patients, their diagnosis seems like the beginning of the end. However, seniors who have this disease can find joy in day-to-day living, as evidenced by the remarkable story of a D.C.-area doctor recently profiled in the Washington Post.
David Hilfiker has dedicated much of his life to helping others. After attending Yale University, he set up a medical practice in a small Minnesota town, later moving to D.C. to work with low-income individuals. He established a residence for individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the 1990s, when the epidemic was at its crux. His wife, Marja, has spent her career serving others, as well. She began a school for adult education when the couple moved to D.C.
But recent events have changed the lives of these two individuals. It began when David started to notice certain issues he was having. He became lost more often, even when in neighborhoods he knew well. He lost his fanny pack twice, and eventually failed two questions on a cognitive test given to him by his doctor - as a man in his 50s, he should have been able to answer all the questions correctly, the media outlet reports.
Hilfiker eventually came to accept that he had Alzheimer's disease, and soon began a blog to chronicle his experience, called Watching the Lights Go Out. He and his wife both knew this diagnosis would have an impact on their future. Alzheimer's is an illness that gets progressively worse, and it's likely that in the future, the doctor will lose his ability to even recognize his wife. Marja will have to take on a caregiver role for her husband, and although the days when she must attend to most of his needs are still far off, it has caused a strain in their relationship already.
The silver lining
Hilfiker has struggled with depression his entire life, but despite this, he's found a way to overcome some of the fear and sadness that comes with an Alzheimer's diagnosis, the news source reports. He and his wife put a focus on the present, rather than thinking too much about where they may be in a few months and a few years.
"Perhaps this Alzheimer's is allowing me to enjoy my life for the first time, not because things are any better, but because I'm more emotionally in touch with the goodness," he wrote in one blog post. "I feel rooted, grounded. I'm where I'm supposed to be."
Sunrise Senior Living communities also focus on this sort of positive living. Team members at these communities emphasize the importance of finding the joy in daily life and the relationships we keep.