Family caregivers who are caring for loved ones with cognitive and behavioral health conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease and depression, face particularly demanding challenges, according to a new report from AARP and the United Hospital Fund.
As a result of all the demands on them, a majority of these caregivers say they feel stressed much of the time as they try to juggle their caregiving responsibilities with other work or family obligations.
As primary caregiver for my dad, who has Alzheimer's disease, I can personally attest to these findings. In addition to the heartbreak and emotional exhaustion of seeing my dad's personality and abilities change, there are key practical differences from taking care of my mother. Though my mom suffered a stroke, she was generally cooperative and cognizant of helping us help her. With my dad, that is not always the case.
Take, for example, medication management, which can be particularly challenging. (The new study found that 84 percent of caregivers say they assist with this task, and more than 4 in 10 say it's hard because it's time-consuming.)
That certainly has been my experience. Medicine time with my dad has become one of the greatest difficulties, often taking an hour or more as we cajole, distract and sweet-talk him into swallowing pills or liquid medications. He doesn't understand why he should do so. If we're not alone, I often tag-team with my sister, Linda, and a paid caregiver to get it done. Mom simply took her pills within minutes when we gave them to her.
I'm certainly not alone in dealing with these challenges: Behavioral health conditions are significant for those over age 50, with 20 percent facing depression and 11 percent struggling with anxiety. The number of those with Alzheimer's disease in the U.S., currently 5 million, is projected to nearly triple by 2050. There will be fewer potential caregivers for each care recipient as boomers age, and these caregivers tend to be in the role longer than other family caregivers. We are stressed and depressed - and that will not change unless we receive better training, support, respite, care coordination and understanding of the incredible burdens we bear of the heart, mind and body.
Photo Credit: Kelly McGinnis