Caring for dementia patients takes toll on baby boomers

Alzheimer profile from Shutterstock
Alzheimer profile from Shutterstock

Baby boomers caring for people with dementia face special difficulties and significantly more strain and depression than other caregivers, according to a recent study.

Extremely stressful process

"(Caregivers) of people with dementia are experiencing more caregiving strains, interrupted sleep, and depressed feelings than boomer (caregivers) of people without dementia," the study's lead author Heehyul Moon said in an email.

Baby boomers, currently between 50 and 68 years old, are more likely than previous generations to still be working as well as helping adult children while also caring for aging parents, note Moon, from the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, and his co-authors.

Read: Caregivers: Dementia

Moon told Reuters Health that caregiving for people with dementia is "an extremely stressful process requiring extensive contact, intensive emotional and financial support, and assistance with basic daily tasks (eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, incontinence, etcetera)."

It's already known that caregivers (CGs) of dementia patients tend to have worse mental and physical health, less leisure time, more work complications and more family conflict, Moon and his colleagues write in the journal Age and Ageing.

In the U.S. in 2012, over 15 million unpaid caregivers, typically family members, provided care for people with dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association. By 2050, the number of seniors with Alzheimer's disease may nearly triple, from 5 million to a projected 13.8 million, according to the organisation.

An extra burden

The 78 million baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, make up one quarter of the U.S. population and are likely to be the ones shouldering much of the caregiving for parents, aunts and uncles, older siblings and other relatives, the study team points out.

To gauge the effect of the extra burden of caring for someone with dementia, the researchers used national survey data on 650 primary caregivers (CGs) belonging to the Baby Boomer generation. Of these, 138 were caring for someone with dementia.

The study team found that boomers caring for a dementia patient reported providing more help with their charge's daily activities, and having more conflicts between caregiving and their work and social lives than did boomers caring for someone without dementia.

Read: Managing dementia

The dementia caregivers also reported more interrupted sleep and more feelings of depression or helplessness, and they were more likely to hire paid help to supplement their caregiving.

The social lives of boomers caring for dementia patients were important to their emotional state. Caregivers with support from family and friends reported fewer depressed feelings, while those with more social conflicts felt more down and hopeless.

The trouble that dementia patients may have communicating their wants or needs, and the inability to leave dementia patients home alone, may cause additional strain for their caregivers, according to Anne Edwards, who studies the emotional effects of caring for cognitively impaired elderly people at Purdue University Calumet, in Hammond, Indiana.

High blood pressure and arthritis

Older and unmarried boomers caring for dementia patients, reported poorer physical health than younger or married counterparts. The same was true for those who had conflicts with other family care responsibilities.

Otherwise, high blood pressure and arthritis were the most common chronic diseases among the boomer caregivers, and the study authors caution that chronic caregiver stress could exacerbate blood pressure problems in particular.

With the parents of baby boomers living longer and the children of boomers depending on their parents for longer than in past generations, it can add up to about 40 years of financial and personal caregiving on the part of boomers, Moon's team points out.

Read: Caregiver grandmothers persistently depressed

Although most caregivers prefer to keep their loved ones at home, Edwards said, it can be difficult to find affordable support programmes. "Programmes have come a long way in many states, but there are still circumstances where the only affordable option for CGs is nursing home placement. Expanding options to make all types of care more affordable is the first thing that society can do."

Moon stressed the importance of self-care for caregivers, adding that health professionals should encourage caregivers to make time for socialising and maintaining relationships.

Edwards also calls upon family and friends to help out in whatever way they can.

"If looking after the care recipient is something that makes a person uncomfortable, then that person can offer to go to the store, help with paperwork, etc.," she said. "Ask CGs how they are and listen to the entire answer. Offering to spend time with the care recipient can be a wonderful gift to the CG. Offer. Don't wait to be asked."

SOURCE: Age and Ageing, online October 30, 2014.

Read more:

10 signs of caregiver stress
Caregiving may add years to your life
Alzheimer's Caregivers' Outlook May Vary by Race, Ethnicity

Image: Alzheimer profile from Shutterstock

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