Seeing it Coming

CNN health highlights the tragic case of Karen and Jim Garner. Jim was diagnosed three years ago with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. He was 48. Now, after having to leave his job and move home, Jim struggles through the day fighting to complete everyday tasks. The father of two laments that he is only good for doing household chores. His wife Karen agrees. As horrible as that sounds the financial, emotional, and physical burden on caregivers is excessive, especially when the caregiver is a relative.

When Jim lost his job, Karen needed to return to work full time. Despite the security of a full time job, Karen earns less than half of what Jim did. She also has not started paying for caregiving for Jim. She is currently his full time caregiver as he retains enough cognitive ability to be left alone. However, his mental state will eventually deteriorate to the point that full time care, not covered by insurance, is a necessity.  Not only is there no subsidy for Jim’s future care, there is no way to replace the loss of his financial contribution. A patient in healthy condition otherwise could live decades after diagnosis. How can a family of four living on one salary provide full time care on top of daily expenses?

Caregiving is also extremely emotionally taxing. As each day progresses, so does the disease. For the caregiver, and in Karen’s situation, the spouse, it is horrific to watch the daily deterioration of your loved one. Karen laments that her children ages 9 and 12 will never know the great father Jim was. Jim is also increasingly distant with the children. While physically he is there, his wife and children may have already emotionally lost him. It is difficult for Karen face Jim’s impending deterioration and death, but the emotional burden has clipped her once optimistic attitude into one that would rather the family just got it over with quickly.

Once Jim deteriorates enough, he will require full time physical care. These burdens often fall on spouses and children who give care after the hired help has left. Here are some caregiver burden statistics:

This problem of caring for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia will only get worse. With an increasing and aging population, these diseases are expected to affect 115 million people by 2050 and the costs for patients in the US alone will rise to $1.2 trillion. How can we care for our ailing population AND their caregivers? Are we in fact creating a new emotionally and financially ailing population of caregivers?

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