Shriver Report Shows Alzheimer’s Impact on Women:
Aging: Challenges and Solutions
Dr Cheryl Mathieu
The Shriver Report: A Women’s Nation Take on Alzheimer’s was just released. The Report is a collaboration between Maria Shriver and the Alzheimer’s Association, exposing the epidemic’s effect on women as caregivers, advocates and people with the disease. Maria is getting people talking about Alzhiemer’s disease!
Alzheimer’s is a women’s issue. According to the report, women make up two-thirds of the people with Alzheimer’s in the U.S. and account for 60 percent of the unpaid caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s. This means that 10 million women either have Alzheimer’s or are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. 40 percent of the caregivers interviewed said they felt like they had no choice in assuming the caregiving role. These numbers continue to grow, daily.
Alzheimer’s disease is costly. Governments, businesses and families spend $300 billion a year on Alzheimer’s disease. Yearly, it costs about $56,000 to care for someone with Alzheimer’s, which is typically paid for by families. Daughters, sons, spouses will give up their jobs, savings, time, health, and sanity to help care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s.
A woman with Alzheimer’s has unique challenges. Since women tend to live longer, they are more often widows who may not have a spouse to care for them as the disease progresses. She may be caring for other family or friends, so as she declines the others will need to find different caregivers. Women tend to be the “glue” in the family, and as her disease progresses her family may no longer remain as cohesive.
A woman as a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s experiences challenges as well. She is more likely to be depressed, and according the Report, 68 percent of women who were caregivers experienced emotional stress, and 51 percent of them said they suffered from physical stress. Most caregivers don’t self-identify as caregivers. They just think a loved one needs help and they are going to help. They don’t know they need to ask for help, and don’t realize what a toll caregiving is taking on their lives and health. Caregivers often put aside their own needs and dreams to take care of their loved ones. Daughters experience a role reversal, now needing to take an in-charge position with their parents.
How can we relieve the emotional stress on families? Caregivers need support, education and resources. The needed resources are often available, but it’s very difficult to find them when you need them. That is why I launched www.AgingPro.com. It brings all the resources, professions, education and support for eldercare to one place. Lack of information promotes fear. Care coordination is also crucial, and part of the Healthcare reform legislation. Certified Geriatric Care Managers provide an invaluable communication link between doctors, community care providers, persons with Alzheimer’s and their family. Care Managers are invaluable, yet for some are not affordable. Pilot community care coordination programs do exist, and we need more. We need more support groups, both in-person and online. Adult day respite programs need to focus on early and moderate stage memory loss, not just later stages.
How can we prepare for Alzheimer’s possibly hitting our own family? Few want to talk about it. Some don’t even want to say the word. Yet it’s a natural part of life and will affect all of us in one way or another. I’m referring to Aging. Aging has become a taboo subject in our American culture, something we pretend isn’t there. If you read the paper, watch TV, or go on the Web, you mostly see images of youth, thinness, wealth and beauty. However, we are beginning to realize our population is aging – and so are we.
I’m here to tell you that getting older can be a positive experience and have its own unique rewards. Contrary to the whispered implications, it doesn’t have to be a time of withering away and going to a nursing home. Fun, happiness, success and fulfillment aren’t just the things of youth; they can be enjoyed abundantly throughout life. Older adults can stay independent, active and vital as they age. Getting older CAN mean getting better, if you have the right attitude, information and resources.
So first, we need to be willing to have discussions about aging, starting in our families and communities. Ask each other – when you get older, where do you want to live? What is your ideal vision? It is very helpful to create a “Plan B.” Just as we would prepare for an earthquake, we prepare for the potential of Alzheimer’s in the family. Plan A is what you’d like to happen, Plan B is what you will do if Alzheimer’s strikes you or your family. Plan B is created by: educating yourselves about the signs and symptoms of the disease; pre-planning your legal matters (creating a will, trust and durable power of attorney for healthcare and finances); saving money for your long-term-care, or purchasing long-term-care insurance; educating yourselves about the choices of housing and care; and locating the professionals and resources available to help out along the journey.
How can government, business, nonprofits and the press effectively call attention to the threat of Alzheimer’s and implement solutions? More education and awareness campaigns can be created – public service announcements, television series on different eldercare topics (similar to the new “Hoarders” series), celebrity involvement – to help shift the old negative stereotypes of aging and eldercare, and to help the millions of caregivers that don’t know how to access the services or find the support they need. Maria Shriver, the aging field needs your voice!
An example of a creative television show might be Extreme Makeover, Grandma Edition. Make over the home of an older person – repairing and/or modifying their homes so they can continue to live independently. There are many inspiring stories of need and courage among caregivers and elders!
Businesses can provide eldercare services and counseling and care coordination as part of their Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Non-profits can provide more grant money to elder care topics. Solutions to Alzheimer’s now include: information, support and best practice guidelines.
The topic of Women and Alzheimer’s is so important. It is where the pain points of love, guilt, money and time intersect – a perfect fit for press, government, the press and business to join in the cause.
The issues in women and Alzheimer’s eldercare are many-faceted and deeply layered. More money for Alzheimer’s research is needed. More support and education is also needed, on all eldercare topics. Most family caregivers for the elderly feel trying to do what’s best for their loved ones. They don’t know where to turn to get help. The stress of caregiving affect their work, finances, and physical and mental health. Caregivers, women, need a place to connect, to learn, be inspired and empowered. AgingSage.co is that place, the “Waiting for superwoman, caregiver edition.”