Leila Pouttu, 77, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and her husband Donald was devoted to caring for her. “He was always there for her, always,” a friend of the couple commented. “He never left the house other than to ride his bike around and go swimming every morning”. The Pouttus had no local relatives and no children. Both were retired and lived in their house for 29 years (Kornacki, S., 2006d). The couple died together in their home on a Thursday morning. Firefighters went to the home to put out a blaze and discovered the bodies. Police detectives said that both sustained gunshot wounds from a gun found at the scene. Detectives determined the deaths as murder-suicide (2006d).
Alzheimer’s has a major impact on those who help care for an affected individual. Seventy percent of people with Alzheimer are living at home, where family and friends provide most of their care. As the disease progresses, it places physical, emotional and financial stress on caregivers as they assume growing responsibilities that may include meeting physical need, managing daily routines and making important medical and legal decisions (Alzheimer’s Association, 2007). Vulnerable population
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in a loved one has as enormous effect on the person with the disease, but the progressive nature of the disease also places a tremendous strain on the person’s family, friends and especially the primary caretaker. Depression and high levels of stress are seen commonly in family caregivers of people who have Alzheimer’s (National Institutes of Health, n.d.). High financial burden, loneliness, physical and emotional burnout – and possibly even death: these are the things that await people who take care of relatives with Alzheimer’s (Page, S., 2006a). Beginning in 1993, researchers examined the records of 518,240 couples between the ages of 65 and 98 on Medicare in the United States. No other diseases, other than psychiatric illness, came close to having the negative affects that dementia had on caregiving spouses (2006a). Significance of problems related to its vulnerability
Depression is more common in those giving care to patients with Alzheimer’s disease than it is in the patients themselves. 50% of the caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients are depressed. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is one of the greatest challenges of elder care. Providing this type of care is sometimes described as the reverse of raising a child. In the movement from infancy toward adulthood, the child keeps getting more capable and independent, mentally and physically. The relationship with the caregiver becomes richer and more varied as the child grows. Conversely, Alzheimer’s patients lose ones ability after another. They give less feedback and fewer rewards as time goes on and ultimately require as much care as an infant. Caregiving can become so demanding and all-consuming that its makes caregivers vulnerable to problems of their own (Alzheimer’s Caregivers Support, n.d.). Related health and social problems
Spouses suddenly charged with providing more care often find themselves without social, emotional or economic support. Stress can weaken their immune systems. The burden of giving care, or stress from a spouse’s death, could cause withdrawal from social networks and an increase in unhealthy behavior, such as drinking alcohol and bad eating (2006a). Causes of death for caregivers, in the period immediately after their spouses’ diagnosis with serious illness, included heart attacks, suicides and accidents. Other research is finding that caregiving of an ill spouse – especially one with dementia – is most often women’s work, and that society has been slow to figure out how to assist those women in the home (2006a). A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that if a man is hospitalized with dementia, his wife’s risk of death over the next year rises by 28...