The Current State of Alzheimer’s Caregivers
The Alzheimer’s Association’s 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report reveals that more than 16 million Americans are providing unpaid care for people living with dementia. Last year, these caregivers provided more than 18 billion hours of unpaid care for their loved ones, valued at more than $232 billion. To put that number in perspective, that number is nearly nine times the total revenue of McDonald’s in 2016.
Alzheimer’s care is hard work. Many caregivers report feeling isolated, stressed, and living with a sense of grief as the person they love changes in so many ways. Often, the person living with Alzheimer’s is unable to communicate their needs, making the caregiver feel guilty that they are unable to fully take care of their loved one. Additionally, many caregivers have children of their own living at home, who need their time and attention as well. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, about 40 percent of family caregivers of people living with dementia suffer from depression.
All these challenges can lead to caregiver burnout, a state of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion, which can compromise one’s health for years. Researchers at Ohio State University found that caring for a family member with dementia can weaken the immune system even years after caregiving ends.
The Importance of Caregivers Taking Care of Themselves
We’ve discussed ways for Alzheimer’s caregivers to take care of themselves before. It’s imperative to find help in your role as caregiver – from family, friends, coworkers, and even hired, professional help. An Aging Life Care Professional® can help identify resources so that both you and your loved one can find the support you need to lead an enjoyable and fulfilling life.
Suggestions for Family and Friends
Family caregivers can’t survive without a network of help. Friends and family often want to help, but they aren’t sure what they can do. The most important thing is to keep in touch. Here are a few practical ideas:
- Offer to stay with their loved one while the caregiver runs errands, attends a child’s piano recital, or just has some time to pursue their passions. Sometimes, just having the ability to get away makes a world of difference.
- Ask specifically what you can do – cook a meal, go to the grocery store, pick up kids from school. Does the dog need walking? The most welcome words in a caregiver’s world are: “Tell me how I can help.”
- Be a good listener. Alzheimer’s caregivers commonly feel a sense of isolation. They can use a sounding board, someone to laugh with, a nonjudgmental connection where it is safe to express the grief and loss that accompany the changes in their loved one.
- Plan an activity that includes the person with Alzheimer’s. For example, there are several “memory cafés” throughout the Boston area. Memory cafés welcome people with memory loss and their families. It’s a great place for those living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias to feel welcome, as well as for caregivers to be able to meet others sharing their experiences.