Caregiver Depression: The Intangible Cost Of Dementia Care:

Does your mother have enough food? Does she have clean laundry? Is she eating nutritious meals? Has she been wandering? Is she safe? Does she have her medications? Are her finances in order? Who will set up her doctors appointments? Who will drive her?

Up to 50 percent of caregivers providing Alzheimer's and dementia care suffer from some sort of caregiver depression - developing major depressive illnesses and stress related to added duties and worry, according to a doctor with the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco. The caregiver becomes so overburdened with responsibilities, duties and worries that they aren't sure what to do next. This feeling of being overwhelmed and not knowing what to do, especially when it concerns a loved one, can lead to anxiety and eventually clinical depression.

With 80 million baby boomers getting older and needing more medical care, and estimates stating that there will be 7 million Americans with Alzheimer's disease by 2025, the concern becomes about the costs of care - financial costs, as well as the intangible mental and emotional costs on the caregiver.

Signs of Caregiver Depression

Providing dementia care and Alzheimer's care for a loved one can lead to feelings of stress, guilt, anger, sadness and isolation. Depression can affect caregivers in different ways and at different times, so it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms. It is common for depression to set in immediately after the loved one has been diagnosed with the disease, and also as the disease progresses and you start to see your loved one fade. Signs of depression include:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not cease with treatment
  • Thoughts of suicide, or suicide attempts

If you are concerned that you might be depressed, see your doctor as soon as possible. If depression is left untreated, not only can it lead to emotional and physical problems, it can also affect the quality of care you're able to provide the person with Alzheimer's or dementia.

What is the solution?

Even though providing Alzheimer's and dementia care can be difficult, caring for loved ones can truly be very rewarding if managed correctly. It is important while providing care that the caregiver takes time to his or herself  to participate in enjoyable activities  and hobbies. Another way to help cope with the added responsibilities and stress is to try keeping a journal to express both positive and negative emotions. It is also important to talk to your friends and family and let them know when you might need some assistance.

There is also major research being conducted that aims to reduce both the tangible and intangible costs of dementia care. The University of California, San Francisco, along with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, is beginning a $10 million study funded by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation. Researchers plan to develop a dementia "ecosystem," which aims to reduce the cost of caring for the growing number of dementia patients and to ease the strain on caregivers.

A handful of tech start-ups have also been working to create technological solutions to ease the burden on caregivers. In San Francisco, Lively markets a system of networked sensors and a watch that can pick up on activity around the house and let family members or caregivers know if there is a worrisome change.

With increasing technology targeted to help ease the burden of Alzheimer's and dementia care, caregiver responsibilities and worries will be lessened, and depression will likely decrease as a result. However, in the meantime it is important to find outlets for emotions related to providing care, and to seek professional help when necessary. Respite care is an affordable, reliable option that can provide the additional support to keep you from feeling isolated and overwhelmed. American In-Home Care offers respite care along with other live-in elderly care solutions. Contact us today to set up a free consultation and discuss what care options are right for you.