Caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients suffer, sometimes to death

Jim Crabtree

It’s common to hear about diseases like Alzheimer’s drastically affecting the lives of those who have it, often causing severe struggles and hardships. What you may not hear much about is how caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s can also suffer deeply and greatly.

Jim Crabtree was actually relieved to find out that his wife and mother had been shot and killed by his father who then shot and killed himself, Linda Carroll of NBC News reports. (Today show photo: Crabtree with his wife, Rita)

“Crabtree had been struggling” to care for his 62-year old wife, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years before, and his elderly parents: a father with dementia and a mother with crippling arthritis.

Crabtree said he felt stretched thin with the responsibility of caring for his family and that by killing them, his father actually got rid of the burdens they caused him all at once, Carroll reports.

“Although rare, there are other murder-suicide cases involving caregivers and their charges. It’s a sign of how stressful the job is,” Linda Ercoli, director of geriatric psychology at the Semel Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles said in the story.

The Alzheimer’s Association has created a test for caregivers to check their stress levels. 

Carroll describes how caregivers’ emotions can range from helplessness to anger when they don’t understand that certain annoying behaviors by their ill patients could be symptoms of the disease. Because of high emotions that can arise in a home with Alzheimer’s patients, Ercoli explains that violence isn’t uncommon. Studies have found that 5 percent of caregivers have been violent with their patients and 16 percent of patients have been violent with their caregivers.

Caregivers at first get a certain satisfaction from taking care of others, but as the disease progresses, they tend to suffer from deep depression, anxiety or other disorders, Ercoli explains. Also, Carroll adds, caregivers sometimes face the risk of becoming physically sick themselves. 

Experts say that caregivers should reach out more to each other for support. “People don’t say, ‘I survived Alzheimer’s’,” Crabtree said. “We are the survivors. I survived caregiving.”

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