The Emotional and Physical Toll of Caring for Family Members with Dementia
After nearly two decades of getting to know families of Alzheimer’s victims, we know the number one emotion felt by family caregivers is guilt. No one wants to turn their loved one over to the care of someone else. But the all-consuming nature of this tragic disease places increasingly severe demands upon caregivers. The reality is that no matter how committed and loving, few families are equipped to endure the physical, emotional and financial strain required to care for someone with this disease.
The most recent studies published by the Alzheimer’s Association show that nearly 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. According to the study, half of these people live in the same household as the person for whom they are caring. They are primarily family members, relatives or friends. Sixty percent of these caregivers are women. More than half of those providing care are aged 55 or older, married, and the primary breadwinners of the household. A quarter of family caregivers live in households with children under 18.
These numbers offer some insights into why the majority of caregivers rate the emotional stress of their efforts as “high” or “very high”, and why approximately one-third demonstrate symptoms of depression. In a household trying to maintain some semblance of normal living, meeting the increasing demands of Alzheimer ’s can have a detrimental effect on the health of family members.
But caring for someone with Alzheimer’s places other demands on families as well. Fifty-six percent of family caregivers reported an increased financial burden. For caregivers working full or part-time jobs while also caring for someone with the disease, the majority reported having to make major changes to their work schedules. This included going in late, leaving early, or taking unscheduled time off to provide care.