Alzheimer's takes toll not only on sufferers, but on caregivers, families

 

Alzheimer's disease is an epidemic.

More than half of all Americans now know someone with Alzheimer's. Almost 30 percent of Americans have a family member with the disease.

To know Alzheimer's is to fear it. Nine out of 10 Americans who know someone with Alzheimer's are concerned that they or someone close to them will one day develop the fatal disease.

MARIA SHRIVER and the Alzheimer's Association recently released The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's Disease . This groundbreaking report reveals the epidemic's effect on women as caregivers, advocates and people living with this disease.

It demonstrates that women are at the epicenter of the Alzheimer's epidemic. According to the Alzheimer's Association Women and Alzheimer's Poll unveiled in the report, women are almost two-thirds of all Americans with Alzheimer's and compose 60 percent of the unpaid caregivers for family members and friends with Alzheimer's.

While serving as a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's disease or dementia can be rewarding, the stress that comes with it is inevitable. The report gives a stark picture of Alzheimer's caregivers: Four out of 10 caregivers say they had no choice in becoming caregivers; six out of 10 women say they became caregivers because they lack other family to do it.

For both men and women who choose to become Alzheimer's caregivers, the desire to keep a loved one at home and close by outweighs all other factors in their choice. Some 11.2 million Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers provide more than 12 billion hours of unpaid care.

CAREGIVING HAS its largest impact on social relationships, with almost 80 percent of caregivers reporting having less time for friends or other family members. In addition, the report focused on stress. Caregiving stresses and stretches the family caregiver -- about a third care for someone 24/7, and almost half are providing more than 40 hours a week of care.

Because of the emotional stress and physical strain of caregiving, Alzheimer's and dementia spouses were six times more likely to develop dementia themselves. Sixty-four percent of working caregivers report having to go in late, leave early or take time off from their jobs to provide care.

The majority of women find it easier to ask for time off to care for children or find child-care than care for someone with Alzheimer's.

According to the Shriver report, the annual per-patient costs of Alzheimer's is $56,800 -- and the lion's share of these costs, 60 percent, is borne by families.

With 78 million baby boomers now moving into their later years, the cumulative costs of care to the nation from 2010 to 2050 will be more than $20 trillion in today's dollars. The total estimated worldwide costs of dementia are $604 billion -- bigger than every company in the world and equivalent to the world's 18th-largest national economy.

Not only do caregivers need awareness, they need resources and support. The federal government and the majority of Americans are not prepared to address the Alzheimer's crisis that is upon us.

IN ADDITION TO lacking a national plan, nearly three-quarters of Americans have not considered care options if they were to get Alzheimer's disease. We must all be the voice and speak out.

As a people and nation, we demand enhanced funding resources to find better treatments, diagnostics and a cure for Alzheimer's, sparing the lives of millions and saving the nation's public health programs billions of dollars. Spare us from losing ourselves, our memories and dying a death as we lay robbed of our ability to communicate, smile, hug and know our loved ones.

November is the month to honor the individuals who provide essential services to family members who are unable to look after themselves. If you are a family caregiver for a loved one with any chronic illness, thank you for what you do. If you care for a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia, please reach out to find resources -- call the Alzheimer's Association's toll-free, 24-hour helpline: (800) 272-3900.

For all of us -- wake up! Deal with Alzheimer's now!

(The writer is program and services director for the Alzheimer's Association, Augusta Region.)

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