If you are providing unpaid care for a family member or loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease it may seem as though no one else can possibly understand what you are going through. The truth, however, is that millions of people are currently providing unpaid care to loved ones with Alzheimer’s – and they pay a price for providing that care. Studies tell us that unpaid caregivers for those who have Alzheimer’s or other dementia are more likely to have higher levels of stress hormones, reduced immune function, new hypertension, and new heart disease than non-caregivers. An Overland Park elder law attorney at Parman & Easterday offers guidance for those who are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Most people associate Alzheimer’s disease with dementia and the loss of memory. While those are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, the disease is considerably more complicated. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, deterioration of thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. These neurons, which produce the brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, break connections with other nerve cells and ultimately die. For example, short-term memory fails when Alzheimer’s disease first destroys nerve cells in the hippocampus, and language skills and judgment decline when neurons die in the cerebral cortex. Unlike many other diseases, such as AIDS, experts do not believe Alzheimer’s has a single cause. Instead, they believe the disease is multi-faceted with a number of factors influencing the development of the disease. Scientists are currently focusing on amyloid and tau proteins, whose malformation are classic characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease; however, other factors likely help determine who develops the disease, including vascular health, inflammation, lifestyle, and possibly even viral causes. To illustrate how prevalent Alzheimer’s has become in recent years, consider the following facts and figures:
- Someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds.
- 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
- Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
- An estimated 5.8 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s.
Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s
Eighty-three percent of the help provided to older adults in the United States comes from family members, friends, or other unpaid caregivers. Nearly half of all caregivers who provide help to older adults do so for someone living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. If you are among the more than 16 million people providing unpaid care to someone with Alzheimer’s, your selfless caregiving is likely taking its toll on you physically, mentally, and financially. Before you reach a point of complete burnout, do yourself and your loved one a favor and set limits. You won’t be any good to anyone if you push yourself past those limits. Plan for time off as well. If possible, take at lest one entire day each week off to recharge.
In addition, reach out for support and help. There are Alzheimer support groups in just about every community that can provide you with both practical resources and much needed emotional support. You should also reach out to other family members for help. Although they may not be able or willing to provide the level of care you are, they may be able to take over for a day, provide transportation, or even cook meals. You may also be able to turn to professional caregivers for assistance. Most Medicaid programs will cover in-home professional healthcare services for Alzheimer patients which can be an invaluable resource.
For those suffering from Alzheimer’s, the reality is that it is not a question of “if,” but of “when” long-term care will be needed. At some point, it will no longer be safe for your loved one to remain in his/her home, or even in your home. Start looking into your options for LTC early on so when the time comes you have a plan in place.
Contact an Overland Park Elder Law Attorney
For additional information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have questions or concerns about caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, contact an experienced Overland Park estate planning attorney at Parman & Easterday by calling 405-843-6100 to schedule your appointment today.