Facing Alzheimer's: The Caregivers' Challenge

By Sean Corcoran

The Alzheimer's caregivers’ story is often one of sustained stress, exhaustion and isolation. Rates of depression among caregivers of Alzheimer's patients are higher than for non-caregivers. Incidence of poor nutrition and chronic disease are higher than people without the burden of 24-hour care-giving.

For people with little support from friends and friends, the disease brings the loss of a loved one, as well as significant financial obstacles for people without the resources to pay for home health aides and other types of custodial and respite care. This week, WGBH's Sean Corcoran explores the challenges of caring for Massachusetts' more than 120,000 Alzheimers' patients.

Related: Mass. venture capitalists fuel Alzheimer's research

Part 1: Plight Of The Caregivers

Barbara Meehan is one of about 15 million unpaid Alzheimer's caregivers in the nation. It's estimated there's about 320,000 in Massachusetts. They're often lonely, emotionally worn and physically exhausted, because caregivers live in a world where the air is thick with loss. They witness the slow collapse of memory and personality. And there's also the looming loss that's sure to come.  

Part 2: Planning For Loss

The Noonan family knows too well what it's like to watch a loved one die of Alzheimer's: Their mother had it, and passed it on to at least four of her ten children. They say advanced planning, although painful, has been key to helping the family handle the disease.  

Video: An Alzheimer's Patient's End-Of-Life Wishes

Part 3: Caring Places

The goal of many people with Alzheimer's disease and their families is to find a way for the person to spend their final days in their home. Oftentimes the burdens associated with the disease makes that impossible, but a new kind of assisted-living home for the memory-impaired offers an alternative to the traditional nursing home.

Part 4: Art Therapy For Alzheimer's

Looking at paintings in a museum or singing songs around a piano is not going to stop Alzheimer's as it steals away memories and personality. But around the country, art and music therapy programs are becoming more common for people with memory impairment.

Part 5: Supporting The Caregivers 

There is growing awareness among policy makers that home caregivers need to be supported, if for no other reason than the country's Medicaid system cannot handle the growing costs. Through a series of state grants, Galazzi says efforts are underway to create support system modeled after programs already in existence for families with members who have disabilities.

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