DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE

Caring for Someone with Alzheimer's

Medical Author: Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.

Caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease takes its toll. According to the first detailed study ever done of caregivers and the end of life, family members looking after a relative with dementia have higher levels of depression, and greater need for support while they are providing end-of-life care than they do after a period of bereavement. Depression often results when a family caregiver, who endures high levels of stress, is unable to alleviate the suffering of a loved one," said Dr. Richard Schulz, the University of Pittsburgh, who led the study which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (1).

Home caregivers usually begin to recuperate from their depression within three months after the death of their loved one with dementia, and the improvement they experience tends to continue for a year. Knowing that the patient's death marks the end of his or her suffering may help cushion the blow of losing the loved one. More than 60% of the home caregivers in the study said they thought the patient was in pain often or most of the time prior to death, 72% of caregivers said they were somewhat or strongly relieved by the relative's death. and more than 90% said they thought that death would be a relief to the patient.