Video: "I do as much as I can do"
Debbie Allen, North Branford, Conn.
Until recently, 91-year-old Eleanor Wheeler lived alone in her apartment near North Branford. But a year and a half ago, her daughter Debbie Allen began to notice unusual behavior — forgetfulness, repetition, household items left in bizarre places. Allen moved her mother into an assisted living facility, but in the past few weeks her worsening dementia has required more intense care. Allen, who's 60, must find a way to balance her husband's needs — they migrate to Florida every winter for his health — and meet the increasing demands of her mother's condition. The struggle has taken a toll on her health, leading to depression, weight gain and insomnia.
Nearly all caregivers find their multiple obligations a source of stress. In a review of studies, the AARP found that 40 to 70 percent of family members caring for older adults showed signs of depression. Caregivers often neglect their own health, which, combined with chronically high stress, puts them at higher risk of hypertension, stroke, sleep problems and heart disease. What drains one caregiver may be manageable for another: Some struggle with the physical toll of lifting or dealing with incontinence; others with dementia patients' aggression, restlessness, or forgetful episodes. They may experience social isolation if they pull away from family or friends, or lack time to enjoy their own activities.
Researchers talk about "loss of the relationship" — when a wife, for example, spends all her energy caring for her husband, she has lost the ability to lean on him in tense times. And this may be the most difficult problem of all.