When Andrew “Bud” Kangas, of Appleton, Wisconsin, learned he had Alzheimer’s disease, he quickly handed over his finances to a family member. Like many Alzheimer’s sufferers, he simply became overwhelmed by his caretaking costs.
“It’s been a financial problem and we’re trying to get that under control,” said Kangas in a recent Apple Post-Crescent article. “I can’t handle the finances anymore.”
Kangas’s wife, Marge, is one of the two hundred thousand “invisible caretakers” in Wisconsin. Together, these caretakers provide nearly $2 billion annually in unpaid care, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The Association estimates that the average cost of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is about $30,000.
“[Alzheimer’s care] is a huge, escalating burden on both families and our society,” said Diana Butz, a spokeswoman for the Greater Wisconsin Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “It will bankrupt this country.”
What Alzheimer’s statistics often fail to consider is the costs associated with the caretakers themselves. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, caretakers spent $8 billion on their own healthcare in 2010. 61 percent of caregivers said they regularly experienced “high to very high” stress levels.
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Since Alzheimer’s gets progressively worse – and is irreversible – caretakers are faced with a daunting task.
“There are no easy answers,” says Angela Lunde, a writer for the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s blog. “Loving someone with a disease like Alzheimer’s brings with it sadness, anger, grief and uncertainty…It can be heart wrenching.”
Avoiding Burnout: Warning Signs<
For non-professional caretakers, burnout remains a serious risk. The stresses of caring for a loved one 24/7 can strain even the most devoted companion or relative.
The Alzheimer’s Association says caregivers should be on alert for the following five psychological states, especially if they’re accompanied by specific repetitive phrases:
- Denial – “I know my loved one will get better.”
- Anger – “If (my loved one) asks me that one more time, I’ll scream!
- Anxiety – “What happens if he needs more care than I can provide”
- Social Withdrawal/Depression – “I don’t care about getting together with the neighbors anymore.”
- Exhaustion – “I can’t remember the last time I felt good.”
There are no easy answers when it comes to caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, but there are wide networks of support. If you think you need additional help in caring for your loved one, call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 hotline at 800-272-3900.
Facing Alzheimer’s: Plight of the Caregivers June 20, 2011 WGBH Radio
Alzheimer’s Caregivers Need Care, Too April 27, 2011 US News and World Report