Study Shows High Toll on Alzheimer’s Caregivers
Alzheimer's disease robs people of their quality of life. It is expensive to treat. And it takes over all aspects of their day-to-day routine.
But these changes don't just affect the people who have the disease - they also impact their caregivers, too.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, about 15 million people provide care for loved ones with Alzheimer's or dementia, and their time adds up to 17 billion unpaid hours per year. It is not surprising then that stress and depression are common among these caregivers, given the emotionally demanding situations and time commitments they face.
A new study offers a reminder of the financial and health effects that often come with caregiving. The National Alliance for Caregiving looked at 583 people who were providing in-home care for a loved one with Alzheimer's, usually spouses or parents. Most of the caregivers were women, and they spent about 8 hours a day attending to the needs of their loved ones.
The caregivers rated their own health from poor to excellent, and over 18 months, their health worsened. During this time, their own need for health care services (like visits to the doctor, hospital, and emergency room) went up by 25 percent.
As a result, their healthcare costs were $4,766 higher per year!
When people step up to take responsibility for a loved one, it is often at a time in life when some of their own resources are not as ample as they used to be. In this study, the caregivers were about 61 years old on average. At this point in life, chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease are becoming more common. And people often have other obligations, whether it's trying to save for their own retirement or spending time with their grandkids.
That's why the researchers urge caregivers to look after their own health, too. To help ensure that caregiving responsibilities don't chip away at your own well-being:
• Check in with a doctor on a regular basis. When you take your loved one in for doctor visits, a health care provider may ask you how you are doing. Make use of this time to discuss your own health concerns. And visit your own physician when you are having emotional or physical symptoms.
• Check in with yourself. We can lose track of how we are doing when we're focused on someone whose health needs are more obvious. This questionnaire from the American Medical Association can show you if your strain is becoming too great.
• Ask for help. You may have resources available to take over some of your duties - or at least give you a much-needed break from time to time. The questionnaire mentioned above provides phone numbers and websites to help track down resources in your area.
For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H.