Often Hidden, Research Casts Light on Kinless Adults with Dementia

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Washington state researchers are spotlighting an often overlooked population: kinless adults with dementia.

The population is often difficult to study for a variety of reasons. Marlaine Figueroa-Gray is a medical anthropologist with Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute who has been involved in this research.

She said when people with dementia don’t have a spouse or children, there often isn’t someone who acts as a point of contact for studies. Figueroa-Gray noted that there other consequences, too.

“When people also end up living as a kinless person with dementia,” said Figueroa-Gray, “they don’t have that family support to bring them even in to get their medical care.”

Figueroa-Gray said researchers wanted to figure out what happens to these folks when they don’t have caregiver support. So they took a unique approach, and looked through administrative records to find kinless adults with dementia.

In another study, Figueroa-Gray said researchers found this population struggling with daily activities – and needing assistance bathing, dressing and managing medication.

“They had challenges driving, and they experienced changes to affordability of daily life – often being unable to keep up with rising rents in their neighborhood,” said Figueroa-Gray. “And all of these needs are obviously more challenging to manage without close support.”

Figueroa-Gray noted that a network of neighbors can sometimes provide care for dementia patients, but these relationships can be fragile.

She said many people can find themselves in this situation, so it’s important for everyone to understand it.

“Really thinking about the system and policy level,” said Figueroa-Gray, “what can we do to support people as they age and might, kind of, age out of their family relationships by just surviving other deaths that happen?”

Featured photo: About one in three adults age 85 or older may have some form of dementia, according to the National Institute on Aging. (pololia/Adobe Stock

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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