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Half of Elder Caregivers Suffer from Depression

Sing Tao Daily, News Report, Fanny Chiang Posted: Nov 09, 2009

In the last century, the average life expectancy has increased from 47 years to 78 years. Super seniors, who are 85 or older, are also the fastest growing group. Enjoying a longer life expectancy means the costs for senior care will continue to increase and the needs for senior caregivers, who usually are the children or the spouses of the senior, are also on the rise. However, statistics show that 50 percent of senior caregivers show signs of depression, reflecting the burden of the increasing lifespan of seniors.

Struggles and Tolerance

Ten years ago, while Mrs. Lam, a 50-year-old Chinese-American woman, was living with her 70-year-old mother, she noticed her well-educated and elegant mother change behaviors. Not only was she forgetting things, she was also putting frying pans into the shoe cabinet, leaving food in pockets, singing and dancing in a shopping mall, even shouting and yelling at strangers. Lam was embarrassed by her mothers behavior but all she could do was teach her mother how to behave. Lam said her mother was doing everything she once taught her not to do.

Back then, Lams husband was working in Shanghai, and her daughter was studying aboard. Lam had to work and take care of her mother all by herself because none of her siblings were willing to share the responsibilities. They even blame her for not doing her job. Lam said bearing all those difficulties, she could only face them with patience and silently cry to herself because whenever she wanted to end a day with a good nights sleep, her mother would come and knock at the door.

There were times I refused to go home after work. I even hoped to die in a car crash when I was driving home, said Lam, who was showing early signs of depression.

Two years later, Lams mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease. Through some Alzheimers organizations, Lams mother was admitted to a Catholic adult day care center, where she learned drawing, and shuttle buses could be arranged to bring her back and forth from home. Since then, Lam also enrolled in a monthly support group, where caregivers were given opportunities to express their needs and frustrations.

Lam said not until then was she able to take a deep breath and feel relief.

Lack of Support, Building Pressures

However, Lam is not the only one. According to statistics from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, many senior caregivers are also breadwinners and child care providers at their households. Under such tremendous family and financial pressures, half of these caregivers are showing signs of depression. Zhang Pei-Ling, outreach specialist for the Chinese community with the Alzheimers Association Northern California and Northern Nevada said 70 percent of Alzheimers patients are living at home, often taken care by their spouses or children. Therefore, 80 percent of senior caregivers are experiencing high stress, while 50 percent show signs of depression.

Care givers from On Lok Lifeways, a comprehensive health plan serving Bay Areas Asian elders largely in San Jose, said Alzheimers disease is not only the most common elders disease, it will also creates pressure on the patients families. According to statistics from the Alzheimers Association, there are about 5.3 million Alzheimers patients in the United States. One-eighth of the seniors who are 65 or older have Alzheimers, and one out of two seniors who is 85 or older have the same disease.

On the other hand, lots of caregivers share the same experience as Lam. According to the data from Caregiving Coalitions and the Mental Health Department of Santa Clara County, 80 percent of caregivers are relatives of the care-recipients, and the care provided is free of charge. Moreover, 75 percent of the caregivers are females, with one-third of them taking care of their children as well. Only 35 percent of them get support from their workplace in taking care of seniors who are 65 years old or above.

As a result, almost one-third of the caregivers need to adjust their schedules or take time off from work as Lam did while caring for her mother. Although the average length of time providing care is four years, most of the caregivers dont receive professional nursing training or get enough support from the family or society. A majority of the care-recipients are at least 60 years of age, including those with chronic diseases, disability and terminal diseases.

Taking care of the seniors may be rewarding and good for the family, but without appropriate support, it can be a very stressful responsibility.

Feeling Lonely, Damaging Physical and Mental Health

Spending most of her time taking care of her mother and family, Lam sacrificed her social life. She slowly became isolated and often asked herself, Why isnt there anyone to help me? In fact, caregivers health is often at risk because of the workload and lack of support. Many caregivers are already experiencing problems with their health, such as sleeplessness, headaches, anxiety, decreasing immunity, and the increasing possibility of chronic diseases and suffering accidents.

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