I recently spoke with “Care Giver Dave” Nassaney on his Care Giver Dave’s podcast and learned some alarming statistics. Did you know that approximately 30% of caregivers die before the person they are caring for? For those caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s worse. A Stanford Medicine study found 40% of Alzheimer’s caregivers die before the patient. Another study found that the risk of death is 63% higher for caregivers under strain than for non-caregivers.
If statistics make your brain go numb, consider that each one of these deaths is doubly tragic, both for the caregivers who die and for those they leave behind in need of care.
Many people providing care round-the-clock experience extreme burnout. They neglect taking care of themselves out of the demands that come from providing care for a loved one. Older caregivers are particularly at risk, a fact to consider this month, which includes both National Senior Citizen’s Day Aug. 21, and National Grief Awareness Day Aug. 30
Last week I was teaching my regular Wednesday morning meditation group. At the end, during our sharing time, I mentioned that I had been on Care Giver Dave’s show and those statistics. One of my participants responded: “It’s all very fine and well to talk about caregivers getting help, but I need help and I can’t find any.” Her husband has Alzheimer’s and Lewy body dementia, and she isn’t in a position to call a home care agency and hire someone to come in for shifts to spell her. The only time off she gets is eight hours a week when she takes him to a memory day-care facility run by Jewish Family Service, but that’s not enough, and she’s exhausted.
My heart broke for her — I imagine all our collective hearts broke — and then people in our group did what we do: offered ideas to try to help! For instance, Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid health care program) can pay for home care and home health care, but you must meet its financial and medical eligibility requirements. Another member of the group said her sister is an accountant and could help her see about switching insurance to register her husband for Medi-Cal.
One of my more senior students raised her hand to say the Alzheimer’s Association was really helpful for her before her husband passed away. The woman who was really burned out responded, “I don’t need a support group to go and hear what I am going through.” However, another member pointed out to me on the phone later that day that support groups share practical information about help that’s available, not just stories of personal misery.
After our meeting, I got on the horse to try to find this woman some resources. I reached out to one of the founders of a Jewish agency here in San Diego where I took my mom’s clothes and dad’s clothes after they passed away, called the G’mach. She told me about the Kindness Initiative and suggested my friend apply to them ASAP.