Alzheimer's Takes Its Toll on Many

An Alzheimer's caregiver army nearly 15 million strong

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The number of Americans caring for someone with Alzheimer's is staggering. As the number rises, the toll on families also grows.

In a recent report by the Alzheimer's Association, researchers reveal that almost 15 million people in the U.S. are currently taking care of someone with Alzheimer's or another type of dementia. Those caregivers are providing an estimated 17 billion hours of unpaid care amounting to $202 billion.

dailyRx Insight: Alzheimer's caregivers need to share duties, know their personal limits, and remember there are many support groups and resources.

About one out of every eight older Americans has Alzheimer's disease. As the U.S. population over 65 years of age increases, so too will the number of people with all forms of dementia. More and more adults from the baby boomer generation will need the help of their families as the disease takes hold.

In fact, about 80 percent of at-home care is delivered by patient's family members. These family members have to perform numerous tasks on a daily basis in order to help their loved ones. Such tasks include shopping for groceries; preparing meals; helping with medications; managing finances and legal matters; bathing, dressing, grooming, feeding; helping to use the bathroom; and almost anything else a person needs to do on any given day.

The constant work associated with caring for someone with Alzheimer's or dementia can take a heavy toll on families, especially if they do not seek outside help. The report shows that 61 percent of family caregivers report high levels of stress. What's more, around 33 percent of family caregivers report symptoms of depression.

As Alzheimer's and other dementias intensify with time, caregivers have to give more of their time looking after their impaired family members. Almost 60 percent of family caregivers said they felt like they were "on duty" 24 hours a day as their loved ones neared the end of life.

With all of the stress associated with taking care of an Alzheimer's patient, a family caregiver can greatly benefit from professional help as well as intervention programs. Interventions involve programs such as educational and support sessions, home-based visits, and technology-based support through phone calls, the Internet, video or audiotapes. The report shows that interventions can improve family caregivers' knowledge, skill, and well-being, while reducing stress and depressive symptoms.

As the report projects the total costs of Alzheimer's care to reach $1.1 trillion by 2050, it's important to continue research to further our understanding of this debilitating disease. Finding new and effective treatments will not only help those who suffer, but also reduce the cost to families and the healthcare system.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in the United States and in the world, affecting 26.6 million people worldwide. Alzheimer’s results in memory loss, decline in cognitive functioning, and behavioral changes. Alzheimer's disease is usually diagnosed clinically from the patient history, statements from relatives, and clinical observations. There is no cure, and treatment efforts are aimed at slowing the progression of the disease and treating its symptoms. Drugs such as Namenda® and Aricept® have been shown to slow progression by increasing certain neurotransmitters in the brain to improve neuronal communication.

The report can be found online and Alzheimer's & Dementia, the journal of the Alzheimer's Association. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 16, 2011
Last Updated:
March 17, 2011