The technical definition of Alzheimer’s disease seems so simplified from what patients and caregivers often experience. For example, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America defines the disease as “a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes.”
However, as every family who has dealt with this debilitating illness knows, there’s so much more to that description. Alzheimer’s is a relentless, incurable disease that slowly steals the essence of its victims, draining financial resources, exhausting and often shattering caregivers who love them, and straining the medical system that is struggling against the disease. Consider these alarming Alzheimer’s and dementia statistics:
The alarming statistics on mortality …
- Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
- One-third of the nation’s elderly die with dementia.
- Alzheimer’s kills more people than prostate and breast cancers combined.
- Deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 89 percent since 2000.
The alarming reach of Alzheimer’s …
- More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s.
- Every 66 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops the disease, with a projection for 2050 of one new case every 33 seconds.
- Ten percent of people 65 or older have Alzheimer’s.
- Two-thirds of U.S. Alzheimer’s victims are female.
- Thirty-five percent of caregivers say their role has worsened their health.
The alarming financial cost of Alzheimer’s …
- More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for victims of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
- Alzheimer’s costs U.S. businesses more than $60 billion a year through lost productivity, caregiver absenteeism, and insurance costs.
- The annual cost of caring for one Alzheimer’s patient ranges from $18,500 to more than $36,000.
- This year, dementia will cost the U.S. $259 billion, an annual expense that could reach $1.1 trillion by 2050.
Alzheimer’s Disease and the Impact on Caregivers
In 2016 in the United States, family members and friends of Alzheimer’s patients acting as unpaid caregivers contributed 18.2 billion hours of assistance, valued at $230 billion.
There is another cost paid by caregivers, though. The Alzheimer’s Association says that “compared with caregivers of people without dementia, twice as many caregivers of those with dementia indicate substantial emotional, financial and physical difficulties.” Furthermore:
- About two-thirds of caregivers are women, and 34 percent are 65 or older.
- Forty-one percent of caregiver households have annual income of $50,000 or less.
- About 25 percent of caregivers also are taking care of children younger than 18.
10 Signs of Caregiver Stress
With dementia victims so dependent on caregivers, and with the task being so physically and emotionally grueling, it is critical that the caregivers take care of themselves, too. There are 10 common warning signs that the caregiver is at risk:
- The caregiver is in denial about the disease and what it is doing to his or her loved one.
- The caregiver grows angry with the dementia victim and frustrated that the victim no longer can do things he or she once did.
- The caregiver withdraws from friends and ignores activities he or she once enjoyed.
- The caregiver grows anxious that he or she will be unable to cope as the disease advances.
- The caregiver succumbs to debilitating depression.
- The caregiver becomes too exhausted to finish important daily tasks.
- The caregiver suffers sleeplessness caused by concern over things that could happen to his or her loved one.
- The caregiver grows irritable and moody, resulting in negative actions.
- The caregiver begins losing the ability to concentrate on and perform daily tasks.
- The caregiver begins developing health problems.
The Alzheimer’s Association warns that these red flags are signals that the caregiver should turn to friends, family, or a physician for help and advice. There are other sources of help, too, including an Alzheimer’s Association help line, local support groups, and message boards.
How to Stay Healthy as a Caregiver
Your commitment to care for a loved one or friend with Alzheimer’s begins with taking care of yourself. To that end:
- Eat properly, exercise, try to sleep enough (even if it means napping during the day), stay on top of any medical conditions, and seek help if the stress of your circumstances produces emotional problems.
- Don’t lose contact with friends. Their physical and emotional support is critical to your wellbeing and, therefore, that of the dementia victim.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help from friends and relatives.
- Use public and private community resources such as home health aides, home repair services, faith-based volunteer services, and civic groups.
- Make sure you don’t overextend yourself physically or emotionally, and that means finding the time to rest and to take short vacations. You may find it helpful to meditate, practice deep breathing, or turn to your religious faith.
- Being organized helps. Prioritize tasks and make lists, and recognize that sometimes things that need to be done won’t get done.
- Know your limits. Be ready to say no, to step away and take care of yourself so that you can be there for the long haul for your loved one.
- Try to remain upbeat. Focusing on what you can and have done will get you further than dwelling on what you can’t get done.
And remember that you are not alone. A Florida fact sheet shows that the Sunshine State has 520,000 people 65 or older who are battling dementia, and that doesn’t include the caregivers or others who volunteer or are paid to help.
Chiumento Selis Dwyer Understands the Alzheimer’s Challenge
The Palm Coast law firm of Chiumento Selis Dwyer, P.L., has been helping families throughout Florida with elder care and estate planning issues since 1973. The firm’s skilled attorneys have a reputation for compassion and service that extends beyond their home counties of Flagler and Volusia. It’s a reputation built in part on witnessing the pain and uncertainty Alzheimer’s inflicts on victims and caregivers.
Contact us if you need help preparing for or dealing with a long and difficult battle against Alzheimer’s.