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Alzheimer's Care Takes a Toll on Caregivers

- Friday, May 17, 2013

Alzheimer’s disease is prevalent among 40 percent of people 80 years and older. In America alone, Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million. While it is important that scientific advancements be made, it is also important to make efforts in patient care for those who already have Alzheimer’s.

Here is a true story:

Debbie Lewis, 58, abandoned her life and has almost exhausted her life savings to take care of her 85-year-old mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

Her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease four years ago. Before Lewis became a full-time caregiver, she worked as an office manager and lived in an apartment with her then 21-year-old daughter. But after three years of commuting to her mother's house on the weekends, Lewis left her job and life to take care of her mother.

"I didn't realize it would be this hard," Lewis said. "I thought it would be easy. I'll just stay at home. I thought maybe she'll repeat herself a few times, but the first time my mother didn't remember who I was - it floored me. I was hysterical when I finally reached out to Alzheimer's Association (three weeks later)," she said. The nonprofit gave her advice, referred her to professionals and helped her find an understanding cohort who shared her tribulations.

The first Baby Boomers reached age 65 in 2011, the number of people with Alzheimer's is expected to skyrocket.

An estimated 5.2 million Americans have the debilitating disease, and that number is expected to triple by 2050. Every 68 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer's. One in eight people over the age of 65 will have Alzheimer's. It is the sixth leading cause of death and the only one of the top 10 that cannot be prevented, treated or slowed. Alzheimer's is an equal opportunity disease and has reached epidemic proportions.

The neuron malfunctioning disease affects people differently and progresses at different rates; however, severe forms require daily supervision from a caregiver because these patients need help with daily activities. In the final stages, they lose the ability to communicate and become bedridden.

So in 2012, millions of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers provided billions of hours of unpaid care valued at billions of dollars.

"Until you've lived it, you don't get it."

It is common to feel a great deal of stress. Caregivers of people with severe Alzheimer's have a higher mortality rate, but there are things they could do to manage that stress. The most important message is to don't try to do it yourself.

Dr. Linda Ercoli, an assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA who works with caregivers, said many times people focus on the disease, and caregivers are ignored. Even the caregivers forget about making time for themselves.

"Caregivers are at increased risk of disease because of the burden and difficulties associated with caregiving," Ercoli said. "A lot don't sleep or eat right. They neglect themselves, so they're at higher risk of depression and anxiety, coronary types of problems and are more prone to getting sick."

For information on Alzheimer’s Care in VA, NC, SC, and TN, contact Spring Arbor.

Excerpts - sgvtribune.com