Under even normal circumstances, being a family caregiver can be tough.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia increases the caregiving challenge.
Caregivers who are caring for people with dementia face more challenges than family caregivers who are not helping someone with dementia.
Those caring for a loved one with dementia have to overcome behaviors that can be difficult to manage including aggression, confusion, wandering, inability to communicate and reasoning with the person with dementia.
These added challenges can be a cause for frustration, stress and fatigue for family caregivers.
If you are the child of the person with dementia, you are also concerned that you might be genetically predisposed to also having dementia and seek ways to prevent it from occurring to you or your children. This is a definite added stressor.
We know that the numbers of caregivers are quite high and climbing every day. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is beginning to affect more people as well.
- According to AARP, in 2013 there were 40 million family caregivers providing 37 billion (yes, with a “b”) hours of care.
- 60% of family caregivers work full or part time in addition to the 18 hours a week they provide care to loved ones.
- In 2014, there were more than 15 million caregivers of people with dementia.
- There were 5.3 people in the US in 2015 with Alzheimer’s disease.
- For caregivers who provide care for a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, 60% report emotional stress is high or very high and 40% themselves suffer from depression.
Let’s see what help might be on the horizon for those who care for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
More than 5 million families confront caregiving responsibilities for a person with Alzheimer’s disease and this care can result in health problems for these hardworking caregivers.
A recent study has investigated the toll this level of caregiving takes on the primary family caregiver and the results are a bit disturbing.
Watching the progressive effects of Alzheimer’s on your senior loved one can mean changes for the caregiver. It can be hard to watch someone you love change before your eyes and become increasingly dependent on you for care.
Researchers from Duke University, Johns Hopkins University and Utah State University found that caregivers who are caring for someone with dementia are six time more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease too!
Researchers feel that the link may be that caregivers and the person with dementia have lived with the same lifestyle factors that may contribute to dementia including activity, diet, and stressors which are then combined with the additional stress of caregiving.
Caregivers also forget about themselves — or simply ignore their own needs — as they focus their time and attention on the well-being of their senior loved ones. They stop putting a priority on their own health needs, stop finding ways to relax, and don’t often get the nutrition or exercise that is so important to cognition and quality of life.
New Diagnostic Tests
There are often two schools of thought about a dementia diagnosis. You either don’t want to know because you can’t alter the course or you want to know as soon as possible to make plans and make the most of your time together.
In order to learn as early as possible so that you and your senior loved one can make changes in lifestyle, get documents and wishes in order, improve your home for aging in place and do whatever they would like to do before their cognition impairs their quality of life, it is important to get as early a diagnosis as possible.
The earlier you know the diagnosis, hopefully new treatment or clinical trials promising hope can be initiated and be more effective.
There are several ways doctors can make a diagnosis if dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is present, unlike in years past when an autopsy was the only viable way to confirm the diagnosis.
- Biomarkers can be measured via lab testing and imaging but they have not been found to be reliable at this time, but testing continues.
- Neuroimaging is currently the most promising area of research into early detection. They are using MRI, CT and PET scans.
- Mental status testing to assess memory and thinking skills can be done by the doctor in about 10 minutes. Longer testing can be done to assess thinking and memory results and comparing them to your peers.
- Testing saliva for certain compounds that can indicate a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is currently under investigation.
- Do it yourself Alzheimer’s test that can be done at home was developed by researchers at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State. It is called the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam or SAGE. It has 12 questions and takes only a few minutes. It is not a diagnosis but a starting point to discuss with your doctor.
New Drug Could Be a “Game Changer”
Currently being tested in clinical trials with people who are not yet exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease but who have been deemed at risk for the development of dementia due to the buildup of amyloid plaques seen under brains scan is a new drug that has been called a game changer.
This new treatment for Alzheimer’s dementia may slow down or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease, according to researchers of the A4 Study.
The drug is called Solanezumab and trials are underway with, hopefully, exciting news for treatment of dementia.
Currently there are five FDA approved medications that are used for the symptoms of Alzheimer’s but they are temporary and don’t treat the cause of Alzheimer’s. It is currently the only cause of death in the top 10 that can’t be prevented, slowed or cured.
Other Drug Innovations
There is a great deal of research currently taking place targeting drugs that will attack the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and not just treat the overt symptoms.
- Tau protein tangles – researchers are seeking a way to prevent the tau proteins in the brain from twisting leading to brain impairment.
- Inflammation – it has been determined that inflammation in the brain caused by an immune response attacking beta-amyloid plaques can impact the thinking areas of the brain, beta-amyloid is referred to as a ‘splinter’ in your brain of which your body tries to rid itself but this process also damages healthy brain tissue. Because this process may not be working well enough in dementia, healthy nerve cells in the brain are affected. To prevent this damage, drug treatments that can help remove amyloid are under investigation. The goal is to “immunize” people with beta-amyloid antibodies to stimulate their immune system to fight against damage caused by plaque buildup.
- Insulin resistance – it may be that people at risk for dementia have difficulty processing insulin, which could affect the brain. How the cells of the brain use sugar and create energy for its proper functioning is being explored. People with diabetes have been shown to have a 65% higher rate of dementia.
Create an Individualized Plan for the Future
The Alzheimer’s Association has a link on their website called Alzheimer’s Navigator. On this site you can map out a plan of action when you face Alzheimer’s disease.
Here you create your own personal plan. There are guides for the information you need to make informed choices, support for the caregiver, home safety and accommodations, how to help with daily caregiving tasks and much more.
It can help connect you with the support and services you need to make your personal journey a little easier.
The more we know and learn through research and clinical trials will benefit those with dementia and their caregivers.
We will be on the lookout for future advances, clinical trials and new treatments as they continue to be released.