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October 3, 2014

Caregivers: Dementia’s Secondary Victims

Caregivers: Dementia’s Secondary VictimsDementia affects more than 36.6 million people worldwide today, and that number is expected to double every 20 years. Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent type of dementia, accounting for approximately 60% to 70% of all cases. In the U.S. alone there are more than 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease, and while the number of victims of dementia in the U.S. is great, the number of secondary victims, the family caregivers, is even greater, numbering 15.5 million. These unpaid family members are performing a great service to both the individuals with dementia and society as a whole, but they pay a hefty price with their own wellbeing and an increased financial burden.

Each year family caregivers spend an estimated 17.7 billion hours caring for individual’s with Alzheimer’s disease at a cost of more than $220 billion. Because of the chronic stress and physical demands of caregiving, many caregivers are at an increased risk for physical problems and serious illnesses. Studies show that many caregivers are less likely to get preventive care that can help keep them healthy because they are more focused on the individual they are caring for.

Caregivers also suffer higher rates of depression, stress, and social isolation, and these factors can play a significant role in a caregiver’s decision to place the person with dementia in an institution. While this may immediately relieve the caregiver of the stress and physical demands of caring for the individual, it does not relieve the caregiver of the psychological impacts. After institutionalizing a family member with dementia, caregivers experience increased levels of guilt, anger, anxiety, depression, and additional financial problems created by the cost of institutionalized care.

For caregivers, it is critical that they take care of themselves first so that they can take better care of their loved ones and not suffer such acute impacts to their personal wellbeing and health. To do so, caregivers need support not only from the medical community, but also from friends, family, and community organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association. Specific actions caregivers can take to maintain their health and wellbeing include

  • keeping their own doctors’ appointments and getting preventive care;
  • maintaining a healthy diet;
  • exercising regularly;
  • staying connected to family, community, and friends; and
  • asking for help when needed.

Hiring a professional caregiver can also provide the caregiver with much-needed respite care so he or she can attend to daily living matters or simply have a break. By taking the time to de-stress, socialize, and live their own lives, caregivers can continue to offer the care and support their loved ones need to experience the greatest quality of life possible.


Alzheimer's Facts and Figures:

Brodaty, H. & Donkin, M. (2009). Family caregivers of people with dementia. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 11(2), 217-228. Retrieved from

Johns Hopkins Health Alert. (July 29, 2014). The toll of untreated depression.

Medical News Today. (October 28, 2011). Alzheimer's disease impact on caregivers, new survey.

Schulz, R. & Matire, L. M. (2004). Family caregiving of persons with dementia: Prevalence, health effects, and support strategies. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 12(3), 240-249.

Johns Hopkins Health Alert. (July 29, 2014). The toll of untreated depression.

World Health Organization. (April 2012). Dementia. Fact sheet N°362.

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