It doesn’t take a huge stretch of the mind to understand why caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is challenging — especially when that someone is a loved one.
It can be physically taxing work, particularly in later stages of the disease when the person needs more and more help with daily functioning. The disease progresses, so care strategies that may work one day may need to be re-written the next.
Caregivers fill a lot of roles, explains Shilpa Krishnan, PhD, a physical therapist and assistant professor in Emory University’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine’s Division of Physical Therapy. “Sometimes the caregiver is a chef, sometimes a medical assistant, sometimes a personal assistant, and more.”
And, caregivers face the emotional challenges of losing a relationship with their loved one (or losing that loved one as they once knew them). “It can be emotionally overwhelming,” says Krishnan, whose research focuses on better understanding the needs and preferences of people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.
Add to those challenges specific burdens among specific populations that Alzheimer’s caregiving tends to fall to, she adds.
Many Alzheimer’s caregivers are in the “sandwich generation” — those (who tend to be in their 40s or 50s) who are caring for aging parents as well as supporting their own children (either raising children in their home or supporting grown children financially). They have a lot of responsibilities to juggle, Krishnan says.Other Alzheimer’s caregivers may be older themselves and face their own chronic conditions (such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and others), which they need to manage along with caregiving, Krishnan says. Research suggests these scenarios can take a toll — individuals with more than two chronic health conditions may be by default at increased risk for cognitive impairments themselves.