(NBC NEWS) Les Kuykendall glows when he's asked to describe his mother, Betty.
"When you hear the word 'moxie' -- that would describe my mom," Kuykendall says.
Now, another label has been given to Betty.
She's been diagnosed with dementia.
Les is one of the 15-million Americans who are caregivers for people with Alzheimer's Disease or another form of dementia.
Adding to Les's burden, he's been caring for his mother long distance.
"She wouldn't eat, but she would tell us over the phone, 'Oh yes I ate' - but she wouldn't be eating. There was no way to truly keep tabs on her," he says.
Two new reports, one from the National Center for Health Statistics and another from the Alzheimer's Association, find the death rate from dementia has increased dramatically in the past decade.
The Alzheimer's Association reports one in three senior citizens dies with dementia.
Caregivers like Les provide up to 17 billion hours of unpaid care a year, valued at $216-billion.
Les checks in with his mother often.
She is now living with family, but still about two hours away from him.
Caregivers can find support groups through the Alzheimer's Association at www.Alzconnected.Org.