Saturday, June 08, 2013

Caring for Alzheimer's Caregivers

As the caregiver for a husband with Alzheimer's disease, Gail McCarthy was on intimate terms with exhaustion and anxiety.

”I was so, so tired. I was sleep deprived, my doctors called it,” said McCarthy, 71. She was constantly on guard lest her husband, 76-year-old Paul McCarthy, attempt to cook or navigate the cellar stairs.

A study released earlier this month says Alzheimer's is the most expensive illness in the country, topping cancer and heart disease and costing families and society $157 billion to $215 billion a year.

The study said the biggest cost isn't medication but rather the hands-on care provided by family members, home health aides and nursing home staff.

The majority of Alzheimer's patients live with family members or even alone in senior housing, experts say.

There are a lot of spouses providing a lot of care.  

The RAND report identified 4.1 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer's or other types of dementia. The population is growing so dramatically, it's a problem that's going to overwhelm us if we don't deal with it.

Lost caregiver wages and replacement costs for unpaid caregivers come to about $41,000 to $56,000 per year per patient, according to the report.

For the first time, there's a realization there are costs associated that could be reduced with proper care and support.

Dealing with loved ones with cognitive impairment can “really wear the caregiver down".

Alzheimer’s care is a great relief for caregivers and a great social program for people with Alzheimer's or dementia. But too often, Alzheimer's patients reject the idea.

Nobody comes into the world knowing how to deal with dementia. “It's new territory.”

Studies show that caregivers of people with Alzheimer's have shorter life spans than other caregivers.

On average, patients live four to eight years after an Alzheimer's diagnosis, but they can live up to 20 years, experts say.

Early-stage behaviors can include wandering, repetitive talk and violent outbursts. Later, patients might not be able to feed, bathe or dress themselves or use the bathroom.

It's just exhausting to care for an Alzheimer’s patient,”said Vradenburg, who was appointed by Congress to a new Commission on Long-Term Care expected to report this fall.

For more information on Alzheimer’s care facilities, contact Spring Arbor.