Caregiver Struggles with Alzheimer’s

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease is a significant physical, financial and mental task, according to a recent survey by the Associated Press – NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The report goes on to say about one-third of the estimated 16 million unpaid Alzheimer’s or Dementia caregivers struggle to manage their own health, and had skipped going to see their own doctor, even when they were sick or injured, instead putting their caregiving duties first. This is especially concerning since Dementia and Alzheimer’s caregivers are themselves an aging group with about 34% of them aged 65 or over.

No Light at the End of the Tunnel

Other research included in the recent Time Magazine report suggests that Alzheimer’s caregivers face higher levels of stress and depression than other types of caregivers. This is likely caused by the progressive worsening nature of the disease which eventually requires nearly around-the-clock care, according to Elena Fazio, a health scientist administrator at the National Institute of Aging.

According to Fazio, “people with Alzheimer’s Disease have ever-increasing levels of behavior symptoms, such as wandering about and unexpected mood swings that make caregiving more complicated.” The constant worrying for a loved one’s mental and physical safety coupled with the isolating nature of the disease greatly adds to the risk of stress, depression and anxiety for caregivers.

Financial Dilemma

The tasks involved with Alzheimer’s and Dementia caregiving are very expensive to outsource, and therefore left to family members – a situation which can interfere with careers. About 60% of Alzheimer’s caregivers face financial difficulties because of their role, according to a survey by the non-profit group US Against Alzheimer’s. The future looks even bleaker with the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s expected to more than double over the next four decades as the U.S. population ages. Only a handful of states have passed laws allowing paid-family-leave but as yet there is no similar law at the federal level.

Tools for Making Care Easier

The burden of watching a loved one’s health decline with every passing week takes a heavy toll on caregivers. There are however a few potential solutions to manage a caregiver’s stress, depressiion and anxiety. The National Institute of Health is studying how stress management training along with social support, can help reduce depression and improve caregivers’ mental health. In addition, a recent study found that mindfulness training, i.e., the practice of staying in the moment, helps dementia caregivers understand and accept their own emotions and those of their loved one.

Other ways to manage stress include: meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and paying attention to your own eating, exercising, and sleeping habits. Even simple exercise routines have been shown to reduce stress and lift moods. Also, seeking emotional support from other family members and friends as well as caregiver hotlines or mental health professionals can teach strategies for dealing with progressive Alzheimer’s symptoms. Environmental changes such as using local resources and programs like meal delivery, transportation assistance and medical advice for caregivers can also make care easier.

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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