Consider the statistics. Every 65 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Today, 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, this number is projected to more than double, rising to nearly 14 million.
Much of the responsibility of caring for people with Alzheimer’s falls on the shoulders of family members. A total 16.1 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s. Family caretakers can face a cascade of challenges – emotional, physical, and financial.
“Alzheimer’s caregivers typically experience a range of emotions,” says Marie Webster, director of nursing at Williamsburg Village Healthcare Complex, a skilled nursing center in DeSoto, Texas, and one of seven memory care communities operated by StoneGate Senior Living. “Along with stress and depression, they may feel anger with their loved one and then guilt for being angry.
“The result is often burnout, or what we call compassion fatigue. This is when the caregiver is so preoccupied with the suffering of the person they’re helping that they experience their own trauma. It’s not uncommon for caregivers to develop issues with their health, from insomnia to a weakened immune system. They can also face financial challenges if, for example, they need to modify their home significantly to accommodate their loved one’s changing needs, hire in-home help, or leave their job to provide full-time care.”
One antidote to compassion fatigue is respite care. This program gives caregivers a short-term break while professionals trained to care for the person with Alzheimer’s take on the caregiving role. Respite care can be provided in the home, at special daycare centers, or in a skilled nursing or assisted living facility that offers overnight stays.
“You can’t care for anyone else well if you’re not caring for yourself,” Webster says. “Taking time to relax and rejuvenate can provided a renewed perspective in your caretaking role.”