How Dementia Affects Caregivers

Dementia is a neurodegenerative condition which affects the nerve cells of the brain which are responsible for thinking, memory and, at times, the ones that allow movement. The damage caused to these nerve cells leads to poor memory recall, which either gets progressively worse over time or comes and goes. This will depend on the type of dementia the patient is diagnosed with.

There are numerous causes of dementia but the two main types include Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

These conditions cause the mentioned memory related issues and movement disorders. These can result in complications such as forgetting to put stovetops off or leaving food to cook unattended, and these can lead to setting the kitchen on fire. Decreased or abnormal movements can lead to falls and injuries such as hip fractures, which may result in hospitalization and an increased risk of developing pneumonia, for example.

Dementia patients therefore need to be cared for, especially when the disease progresses to the point where the patient can’t function on their own. There are facilities that have healthcare workers and assistants available where staff can be hired to help look after the patient during the day, night or both times at their own home. There are also centers where patients can be looked after over the long term, whether they can move around on their own and only need a room or if they need an acute care bed if they are acutely sick.

These are relatively expensive services so not everyone is in a position to afford the fees charged. This means that the patient’s family members will have to accommodate them and this can be a challenging time for all involved.

How Dementia Affects Caregivers

Research studies show that caregivers of dementia patients are more prone to higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and lower levels of subjective self efficacy and well-being. Additionally, these caregivers experience physical health issues such as increased infections due to the high stress levels affecting their immune systems. They also experience increased medication use, and greater memory decline.

Patients with Lewy body dementia, for example, experience movement related problem early on in the disease. These are similar to the movement issues experienced by patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease such as slowed down movements when walking and tremors in the hands. Caregivers have to be more physical with these patients as they have to be helped to move around their environment, as opposed to those with Alzheimer’s disease who experience mainly memory–related issues rather than problems with movement. Interestingly, the studies show that caregivers of dementia patients don’t seem to struggle with the physical impairment of the patient as do caregivers of non-dementia patients.

Cultural differences exist among certain races and demographics when it comes to caring for dementia patients, and how these groups are affected. Latinos and Asian Americans don’t differ from whites in reported burden but they do report more depression symptoms. Hispanics and African Americans though exhibit more perceived uplifts of caregiving than whites. These differences may be explained with the varying coping styles of different racial groups. Despite the better mental health outcomes though, the minority ethnic caregivers often report more physical health issues than their white counterparts. This shows that decreased reporting of distress doesn’t mean that there’s a reduced risk for caregivers.

There are other important factors that affect caregivers of dementia patients. Women seem to experience more symptoms of depression than men do, and decreased knowledge of Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia causes caregivers to overestimate the abilities of the patient which results in elevated frustration, anger and depression. Decreased finances and being in a lower socioeconomic situation is also a risk factor for increased stress and anxiety, especially among African Americans.

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