Health of Alzheimer's disease caregivers takes serious toll, research shows

Caregivers of dementia patients more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor, Aaron Wische - Senior Executive Producer

HOUSTON - Five million American families deal with the day-to-day challenge of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease. New research shows it's taking a serious toll on the health of the caregiver.

Lisa McBride watched the effects of Alzheimer's disease on her mother first-hand.

"She sent the IRS about 20 checks when she should not have, and that's when my father got the bank statement and realized that she couldn't remember that she had made a quarterly payment and had paid it again," McBride said.

Her mother, Sybil, was 75 years old, but was active and well-educated. McBride's father, Whit, took on the role of caregiver to keep his wife at home.

"My father was adamant about keeping my mother in the home. He was almost 80 and ... (it) soon became apparent that that situation was just not working," McBride said.

That's a scenario Annette Tritico and Debbie Hayes with the Alzheimer's Association said is all too familiar -- the scenario of caregivers becoming overwhelmed by the burden of this progressive and fatal brain disease.

Five evenings a week, Hayes visits the facility that is now her dad's home to feed him and spend time with him in the late stages of Alzheimer's.

"It's an overwhelming, devastating disease to watch someone you know deteriorate like that," Hayes said.

That deterioration also affects caregivers, according to research from Johns Hopkins University, Duke University and Utah State University showing that caregivers of someone with dementia are six times more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's as well.

"Long-term married people have the same diet, health habits, exercise habits. They have the same stressors and lifestyles. It can also be attributed to the stress of caring for a loved one and seeing them deteriorate," McBride said.

That happened to McBride's father.

"We had such a focus on what was going on with my mother, that we really weren't paying attention to my father as much and he was exhibiting some signs of early stage Alzheimer's," she said.

The Alzheimer's Association is funneling research dollars and resources to caregivers to lighten the burden.

Tritico said she's even working with researchers at Stanford University on an app that will give answers to common questions and tips on caregiving.

"This will be quick, it will be very narrowed down education to where you can get your answer quicker," she said.

These women, all impacted by this disease, said it really does take a village to care for someone with Alzheimer's and the time to get a plan is now.

"It is so important that families that have a diagnosis for Alzheimer's or dementia develop a support system early on," Hayes said.

There's a need for more researcher and participants to be part of Alzheimer's clinical studies. To learn more about becoming a part of those studies, click here.

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