une is Alzheimer’s awareness month. I wanted to shed some light on the caregiver’s, loved ones and friends that are left to grieve the process of this devastating disease. Memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia does not only affect the person with the disorder, it affects the entire family.
In fact, the impact on families can be so extensive that experts on the subject have referred to primary caregivers as “the second victims of Alzheimer’s” and families as “the invisible patients.”
A research-based paper co-authored by Henry Brodaty, MD, and psychologist Marika Donkin, titled “Family Caregivers of People with Dementia,” offers detailed clinical insight into the actual effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the family unit.
The publication indicates that caregivers face many obstacles as they balance caregiving with other demands, including child rearing, their careers, and relationships. They are at an increased risk for burden, stress, depression and a variety of other health complications. The effects on caregivers are diverse and complex. Numerous studies report that caring for a person with dementia is more stressful than caring for a person with a physical disability.
The effects on caregivers include:
Increased Risk of Physical Illness – Caregivers report a greater number of physical health problems than noncaregivers. Caregivers are at increased risk of various problems including cardiovascular problems, lower immunity, poor sleep patterns, slower wound healing and higher levels of chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, ulcers and anemia.
Diminished Emotional Well-Being – Levels of psychological distress are significantly higher in dementia caregivers than in other types of caregivers and non-caregivers. Caregiver stress can result in serious psychological problems, including depression and anxiety that should be treated immediately.
Increasing Social Isolation – Caregivers often lack social contact and support, and, as a result, experience feelings of social isolation. Caregivers tend to sacrifice their own leisure pursuits and hobbies, reduce time with friends and family and give up or reduce employment in order to devote time to their loved one.
Growing Financial Challenges – Costs associated with caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease are high. Direct costs include physician care, diagnostic tests, pharmaceuticals and personal nursing care. Indirect costs include loss of earnings by family caregivers as they
relinquish or reduce employment and paid hours out of either choice or necessity.
ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE IS THE 6TH LEADINGCAUSE OF DEATH IN THE
16.1 MILLIONAMERICANS PROVIDE UNPAID CARE FOR PEOPLE WITH ALZHEIMER’S OR OTHER DEMENTIAS.
THESE CAREGIVERS PROVIDED AN ESTIMATED 18.4 BILLION HOURS OF CARE VALUED AT OVER $323 BILLION.
The age where Alzheimer’s can start affecting a person is at the age of 30, though this is not common and reach all the way to age 90. There is a genetic test that you can get by a simple blood draw that will tell you whether you carry the gene. Now some would argue, why would I want to know? There is no cure for Alzheimer’s currently. You would have to speak to your doctor if you are at risk and develop a plan for yourself. The effects on the “invisible” patient can be devastating. Grieving the loss of a loved one when they are still here.
The most important thing to know, is you are not alone. If you’re taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s take time for yourself. You may want to seek counseling or join a support group. Just know you are not alone.