More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. 505,000 of them reside in Michigan. In 2013, millions of caregivers provided 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care, a contribution to the nation valued at more than $220 billion.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) caregivers care longer, on average, than those caring for someone without AD. Caregiver stress is known to increase the longer one provides care, making this population particularly susceptible to burnout, depression and other poor outcomes. Caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease are often providing assistance to the person before they even receive a formal diagnosis – making the length of caregiving even greater.
Caregiving for someone with AD can involve multiple types of care, sometimes requiring the acquisition of new knowledge and skills (e.g. how to feed someone), significant time commitments, emotional and psychological stress (e.g. making major decisions), etc.
Clearly, caring for a person with Alzheimer’s or another dementia poses special challenges. For example, the person with AD experiences losses in judgment, orientation, and the ability to understand and communicate effectively. Family caregivers must often help people with AD manage these issues. The personality and behavior of a person with AD are affected as well, and these changes are often among the most challenging for family caregivers. It is not surprising that many areas of the caregiver’s life may be deleteriously affected.
- 39% of caregivers of people with dementia suffer from depressions compared with 17% of non-caregivers.
- Increased incidence of anxiety
- Higher levels of stress hormones
- Reduced immune function
- Slower wound healing
- Increased incidence of hypertension
- Increased incidence of coronary heart disease
- Elevated biomarkers of cardiovascular disease risk
- Impaired kidney function
- Trouble sleeping
- 56% of family caregivers report “a good amount” to “a great deal” of caregiving strain concerning financial issues
- Poor outcomes at the workplace
Want to combat caregiver stress? Review the tips listed below:
1. Get a diagnosis as early as possible. Consult a geriatric physician when you see signs of memory loss or personality changes. Don’t delay! Some of the illnesses causing memory loss or personality changes are treatable.
2. Know what resources are available. Your local Alzheimer’s Association Chapter can help you find adult day programs, respite care, visiting nurses, meals on wheels, physicians and more.
3. Become an educated caregiver. Learn about the disease. As the disease progresses, new caregiving skills are required. Read, research, and learn new skills. Learn about resources that are available. The Alzheimer’s Association offers programs to help you better understand and cope with the behaviors and personality changes that sometimes accompany Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Get help! Caregiving is a job, and just like any other job, you can’t do it 24/7. Ask for help early and often. Seek the support of family, friends, and community resources. Help can come from paid caregivers, family or friends.
5. Take care of yourself! Watch your diet, exercise, and get plenty of rest. Make time for yourself. Manage stress as it occurs.