The Effects of Alzheimer’s on the Family: Why it’s Important to Understand and Prepare

The effects of Alzheimer's disease on families

Sam Streater, Director of Activities at Saunders House in Wynnewood, PA, says, “When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, it has a ripple effect that can impact the entire family. In fact, gerontologists and psychologists often refer to the families of those with memory loss as the ‘invisible second patients.’

“The effects of Alzheimer’s disease can be particularly challenging for primary caregivers within the family. In addition to dealing with the normal activities of everyday life – such as career, family and personal schedule – caregivers must also provide round-the-clock care and support to their loved one." 

“Sadly, primary caregivers often become physically and emotionally overburdened and experience high rates of physical illness, social isolation, emotional distress – including depression – and financial hardship. Unfair as it may be, the price of their devotion to their loved one is often a poorer quality of life for themselves.”

Be Knowledgeable and Prepared

Therefore, if you have a loved one who is living with Alzheimer’s, it is imperative that you take specific action as early as possible – for their sake and yours! Experts at the Mayo Clinic and the Alzheimer’s Association advise that two things are essential:

  • Become as educated and informed as you can about the disease so you always know what to expect.
  • Get help; taking care of a loved one with progressive memory loss typically becomes too big of a job for one human being.

Alzheimer’s is progressive in nature and the slow but steady changes in behavior and function it inevitably causes require greater amounts of care, time and energy from the caregiver. Understanding the disease process so you can plan and prepare for the future should be a priority.

The Effects of Alzheimer’s on Family Caregivers

The professional journal article,“Family Caregivers of People with Dementia,”by Henry Brodaty, MD, DSC, FRACP, FRANZCP provides clinical insight into the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the family unit.Dr. Brodatyreviews some of the major areas where Alzheimer’s affects family members and states, “The effects on caregivers are diverse and complex.” They include:

  • Increased Risk of Physical Illness –Caregivers report a greater number of physical health problems and worse overall health compared with non-caregivers. Caregivers are at increased risk of various problems, including cardiovascular problems, lower immunity, poor sleep patterns, slower wound healing and higher levels of chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, ulcers and anemia.
  • Diminished Emotional Well-Being – Levels of psychological distress are significantly higher in dementia caregivers than in other types of caregivers and non-caregivers. Caregiver stress can result in serious psychological problems, including depression and anxiety that should be treated immediately.
  • Increasing Social Isolation –Caregivers often lack social contact and support and, as a result, experience feelings of social isolation. They tend to sacrifice their own leisure pursuits and hobbies, reduce time with friends and family and give up or reduce employment in order to devote time to their loved one.
  • Growing Financial Challenges –Costs associated with caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease are high. Direct costs include physician care, diagnostic tests, pharmaceuticals and personal nursing care. Indirect costs include loss of earnings by family caregivers as they relinquish or reduce employment and paid hours out of choice or necessity.

Support for Family Caregivers Is Important for Everyone’s Well-Being

The Alzheimer’s Association states, “Part of living well with Alzheimer’s is adjusting to your ‘new normal’ and helping family and friends do the same. Knowing what to expect and what resources are available can make the process easier for you and those close to you.”

Given the many difficulties presented by a loved one with Alzheimer’s, adequate support resources are vital for the individual providing the majority of the care. Experts say that a “safety net” of support can actually reduce anxiety for caregivers by increasing the perception that resources are available to help handle the stressful situations.

Support can be found in many different forms, including the help of other family members and close friends, partnerships with health professionals, community resources and other useful tools such as support groups, respite care, help lines, online training assistance and outside professional care.

The latest technology-based support resources for caregivers are also proving to be of significant value. Today, technological assistance is available in many forms, including: care coordination scheduling and management software; conference calling among family members; telephone support systems with automated messages; online discussion groups; electronic reminder services; computer based forums with question and answer sessions; and computer-based decision support modules.

Expert Care for Your Loved One, Peace of Mind for Your Family

Adds Mr. Streater, “For families that recognize that their loved one’s needs are beyond what can be safely and effectively provided at home, leading memory care communities such as Saunders House offer a caring, compassionate and nurturing solution. At Saunders House, it is our mission not only to promote the physical and emotional well-being of our residents, but to also provide their families with peace of mind, knowing they can entrust their loved ones to our compassionate care. 

At Saunders House, we understand that those with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory impairments have unique needs that demand special care and attention. We have created Care Traditions, a dedicated program to deliver this specialized care and support to our memory care residents in a comfortable and safe environment that features all the comforts of home.

Care Traditions takes a holistic approach to memory care, incorporating programming for the mind, body and spirit. We also encourage our residents to engage with others and enjoy enriching activities. Everything we do in Care Traditions promotes positive interactions among residents, staff, volunteers, family and friends.

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section.

Discover Our Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

Located adjacent to Lankenau Medical Center, Saunders House – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has a celebrated tradition of providing exceptional care and services to seniors and their families. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Saunders House offers a range of services – including short-term rehabilitationtraditional nursing care, restorative carememory carerespite care and specialized care for individuals with visual impairments – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

For more information on Saunders House, our Short-Term Rehabilitation program and other professional services, please call us today at (610) 658-5100 or contact us online.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House/Bryn Mawr Terrace and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.


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