Alzheimer's caregivers face special challenges

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Susan Dickey, Alzheimer's Association of Greater Cincinnati
Susan Dickey, RN, MSN Director of Clinical Services, Alzheimer's Association of Greater Cincinnati

By Susan Dickey, RN, MSN
Director of Clinical Services
Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Cincinnati

Caregiving is truly difficult work.

And for individuals caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, the physical and emotional toll can eventually threaten their own health. Numerous studies have shown that Alzheimer’s caregivers are more prone to higher levels of stress as well as fatigue, depression, alcoholism and chronic illness.

Today, approximately 5.3 million Americans are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, a figure that is expected to triple by the middle of the century. In Ohio alone, there are an estimated 230,000 individuals affected by Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only one of the disease-related in the top 10 without an effective treatment or cure.

Since nearly 70 percent of individuals with Alzheimer’s still live at home, the majority of their care comes from family members, friends and neighbors.

Last year, more than 15 million family caregivers provided an estimated 17.9 billion hours of unpaidcare to individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, a contribution to the nation valued at $218 billion. About two-thirds of caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are women and it is estimated that 250,000 children and young adults (ages 10-18) regularly provide help to someone with dementia.

A 2013 survey indicated that 59 percent of family caregivers of people with dementia rated their emotional stress as “ high” or “very high.” Furthermore, 40 percent of such caregivers reported symptoms of depression, compared to 17 percent of non-caregivers. Due to the physical and emotional toll of caregiving, dementia caregivers had $9.7 billion in additional health care costs of their own in 2014.

There is little question that these caregivers need our help.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a variety of programs and services for persons with the disease and their caregivers. Our clinical team answers Helpline calls, provides community education to caregivers and works closely with our 23 family caregiver support groups.

Many families benefit from our Family Care Consultation program where a social worker or nurse meets with caregivers and together they develop an individualized plan of care. We are pleased to be able to offer all our programs free of charge.

When President Ronald Reagan first proclaimed National Alzheimer’s Disease Month in November of 1983, the Alzheimer’s Association was just three years old. At the time, there were no treatments for those affected by the disease and caregivers had few, if any, sources of support and information. Much has changed over the past 30 years, with significant advances in research and supportive services. Still, we are far from a cure and our current health care system cannot adequately deal with the impending epidemic.

It is encouraging to note that in addition to placing greater focus on Alzheimer’s research, federal officials through the National Alzheimer’s Plan are currently working on initiatives that will provide a higher level of community support for caregivers.

There is little doubt that such help is needed.

For more information on the Alzheimer’s Association and its programs, please call our 24/7 Helpline at (800) 272-3900 or visit