ASK DR. MINDY™
MINDY KIM-MILLER, MD, PhD
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I worry about my father, who is Mother’s caregiver. She is not to the point of getting 24-hour professional help but is at a stage where leaving her alone is worrisome. Dad is 82 and like many from his generation is very private and doesn’t reach out to others. I am limited in what I can do because he thinks he can/should do it himself. I worry that he is depressed but can’t get him to address this with his doctor. Any suggestions would be very appreciated. My mother is happy — she is loved and doing well from her point-of-view. It is my mother who we grieve over, but it is my father who keeps me up at night with worry.
Your concern about your father is likely very legitimate. Depression and depressive symptoms are extremely common among caregivers to those with dementia. Perhaps your father would be more willing to discuss the topic of depression and caregiving stress if he knew that his feelings are common to many, many caregivers.
Up to 80% of dementia caregivers report very high levels of stress. Caregiving for family members with dementia has been consistently associated with greater levels of depression, anxiety, anger, and psychological distress in comparison to non-caregiving and non-dementia caregiving. One survey found that 61% of AD caregivers report moderate to severe burden levels compared to 46% of non-dementia caregivers. Dementia caregiver stress and burden are closely associated with the care recipients’ behavioral problems and increasing caregiving demand as the disease progresses. So your father’s level of stress will likely increase as your mother’s Alzheimer’s worsens.
Your father is at risk for depression and other psychological and physical issues. High levels of stress and burden on the family caregiver has been associated with poorer health and physical function, poor immune functioning, more illness-related symptoms, and more psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety compared to noncaregivers or caregivers with lower stress. Many dementia caregivers become “hidden patients” struggling with their own physical and psychological health concerns, because they tend to neglect their own heath issues or delay seeking help.
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