Burden Greater When Elderly Have Dementia


elderly_and_caregiver450sizeFamily members and other unpaid caregivers individually devote an average of 73 hours per month to helping the elderly who live in our community and not in residential care or nursing homes.

When an elderly person also has dementia, the time demand increases substantially – to more than 100 hours a month, according to a new study published in the October issue of the journal Health Affairs.

Overall, people with dementia make up 10 percent of noninstitutionalized adults age 65 or older, but they account for more than 40 percent of unpaid caregivers’ time.

“We see this problem every day,” said Dr. John Bertelson, an expert on Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias with the Ascension Seton Brain & Spine Institute. “Spouses and adult children are at risk of becoming exhausted, stressed out and getting sick themselves. Caregivers’ sleep can be disrupted every single night. Imagine going through life, sleep deprived every night.

“Frankly, I don’t see how any one person can do this alone,” Bertelson said. “They need to ask for help. It’s not a question of love; it’s how much you actually can do. Even the person you’re caring for probably wouldn’t want you compromise your own health.”

The new study analyzed recent survey data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study and the National Study of Caregiving. It included 2,423 adults age 65 or older who were not in nursing homes who received help with routine activities, and 1,924 family members or others who provided unpaid help to them.

Seventy-seven percent of those with dementia received routine help with household tasks or personal care such as bathing and dressing. Only 20 percent of the seniors 65 years old or older without dementia received similar help.

As people live longer, the number with dementia will increase, further straining caregiving resources. About 1 in 9 people over 65 has Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. By the time they reach age 85, about one-third of people have Alzheimer’s.

Medicare generally covers home health services only if they are related to medical care. It doesn’t cover the routine personal care and other services that people with or without dementia may need on an ongoing basis.