New Study Finds 25% of Alzheimer's Caregivers Have Own Emergency Room or Hospital Visits
I have a vivid memory of the day that my mother went to the emergency room at our regional hospital and I knew that something was wrong with her mentally. I was outside in the driveway where I was calling friends, trying to get grounded in this new reality. A woman also was out by the driveway, very shaken. I asked her about what was going on her life. She told me that she had just been released from the emergency room and that the reason for her visit had been the stress of caregiving for her mother, who lived with this woman. And although this memory is now a little foggy, I believe the mother might have been in the early stages of dementia.
So I'm not surprised by a recent Indiana University study which found that 25 percent of family caregivers who assist a loved one with Alzheimer's had at least one emergency room or hospital visit every six weeks. "Our findings opened our minds to the fact that society needs to expand the definition of patient to include both the person with Alzheimer's dementia and that individual's family caregiver," said study corresponding author Dr. Malaz Boustani, an assistant professor of medicine and director of the Healthy Aging Brain Center. "For American society to respond to the growing epidemic of Alzheimer's disease, the health care system needs to re-think the definition of patient. These findings alert health-care delivery planners that they need to restructure the health care system to accommodate our new inclusive definition of patient."
The study of 153 Alzheimer's patients and their family caregivers, which was published in the November issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, had several interesting findings:
- 44% of caregivers were spouses.
- 70% of the caregivers lived with the loved one who has Alzheimer's.
- The average age of a caregiver was 61.
- The behavior and functioning of the loved one with Alzheimer's proved to be the major factors determining whether the caregiver went to the emergency room/hospital.
"While we've long known that Alzheimer's is a devastating disease to the patient, this study offers a look at how it also impacts the caregiver's health. If we don't offer help and support to the caregiver too, the stress of caring for someone with dementia can be overwhelming, both mentally and physically," Dr. Cathy C. Schubert, an assistant professor of clinical medicine in the IU School of Medicine, said.