The toll Alzheimer’s takes on those with the disease is undeniably high. But there are other people who suffer as well – the caregivers. There are currently 16 million Americans who are caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s, and they are often drowning in financial, psychological, and physical despair.
Mike Daly is one of the struggling. He is the primary caregiver of his wife, Carol, who has Alzheimer’s. In the early stages, Mike often took Carol to work with him in order to avoid losing wages, but that became too hard to sustain as her disease progressed. He now has part-time help to care for Carol while he works, but it eats into their budget. At 73, he still works with no end in sight.
When asked about the possibility of retirement, he states, defeatedly, “I would have to dedicate my whole life to taking care of Carol, because I couldn’t afford health care.”
Caregiving is affecting Mike’s health as well. “I’m dying. I’ve really took a hit,” he says matter-of-factly when asked how he is holding up. He has extremely high blood pressure from the stresses of caregiving, but can’t go to the doctor because he’s worried about his wife. “Who watches Carol? What do I do with Carol?”
According to a study conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association, Mike’s story is far from uncommon. Researchers polled over 3,500 Americans who are caregivers of a loved one with Alzheimer’s and asked them questions pertaining to the financial aspects of dealing with the disease.
They found that, on average, caregivers spent $5,155 of their own money per year on the care of their loved ones, with spouses spending the most (an average of $12,000 per year). This has an impact on the financial security of caregivers, who report that they’ve had to cut back on spending, even on necessities. Alzheimer’s caregivers are 28 percent more likely than non-caregivers to cut back on food and go hungry because they could not afford to eat proper meals. They also tend to cut back on medical care for themselves, leading to avoidable health issues.
The expense of caregiving affects the future as well. Caregivers are often unable to save money for retirement, and instead must dip into savings and retirement funds to pay daily expenses. They often must sell off assets and heirlooms they had hoped to pass down. This leads to economic uncertainty in the future, and prevents the passing of wealth to the following generations. Alzheimer’s has ripples that extend far beyond the individual with the disease.
Though caregiving can be stressful, resources are available. Local agencies and telephone helplines can help ease the burden by pointing towards solutions that may help, such as respite care and food delivery services. Above all, remember that you are not alone in your struggles, and help is out there.
TC currently lives in the soggy Pacific Northwest, bellied up to a sun lamp. In addition to writing, she enjoys photography and estate sales, and is the proud mother to an ever-growing collection of cacti.