Caretaker Syndrome: The challenges of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's

KDBC
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 - 11:00pm

More than 5-million Americans have Alzheimer's disease or other dementias. That adds up to one in eight older Americans. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and there is no cure or treatment for the disease.

There's an often untold side of the disease, the impact it has on those who care for Alzheimer's patients.

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, caregivers report more anxiety, depression and an increased use of alcohol or other drugs.

Clarence "Tex" Kidwell spends most of his days in his East El Paso home, but there's a noticeable absence. His wife of nearly 60 years is no longer with him.

"I miss her so bad, that's she's not sitting over here in her chair," said Tex.

The love of his life, Doris, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's five years ago. Tex had been caring for her in their home ever since.

"It was a difficult, stressful day every day," he said.

He recently made what he calls the most difficult decision of his life, placing his beloved wife in an assisted living home.

"Excruciating. It was so difficult after 60 years to make those kinds of decisions," said Tex.

Tex is in a wheelchair and said it was just too hard for him to care for all of Doris' needs. The stress of worrying about her started to take a toll on his health.

"I got to where I had to be medicated for depression, anxiety, because I would just get so down."

Tex also suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or C.O.P.D, and said the stress was also affecting his breathing. He is also a cancer survivor.

"Cancer doesn't even hold a candle to the misery that you go through with Alzheimer's," he said, "It is just a horrible, horrible disease and I can't think of anything worse."

During a visit to the Kidwell's home, a friend noticed that Tex wasn't okay.

"She said, 'When's the last time you woke up looking forward to the day?' And I had to think about that and I said, 'It's been a long time.'"

Finally, Tex talked to his doctor who told him he had a textbook case of caretaker syndrome.

Jennifer Mansion with Home Instead Senior Care said cases of caregiver syndrome are very common in 'round the clock care, especially when the caregiver is a family member.

"It's frustrating because you want them to remember who you are because you remember who they are, but they don't remember you anymore," said Mansion.

No matter how frequent the cases, Tex's doctor said things needed to change.

"He was so concerned about my health that he says, 'You can't do this much longer. You just can't do this."
It has been a few weeks now since Doris has been in the assisted living home and although he misses her, Tex finds relief in knowing she's taken care of.

"The stress is gone. I miss her, but I don't stress about her," he said, and he's finally starting to focus on himself and his own health.

Mansion said it's important for caregivers to recognize when they are starting to feel frustrated or run down, and also to remember that they are not alone.

The Alzheimer's Association offers support and resources for caregivers at www.alz.org.

Home Instead also offers workshops and training to help caregivers cope with the emotions associated with caring for people with dementia. They can be reached at 915-845-2555, or for more information go to http://www.homeinstead.com/142/Pages/HomeInsteadSeniorCare.aspx.

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