Caring for a Spouse with Alzheimer’s Puts Significant Other at Greater Risk
At the recent Alzheimer’s Association 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, an eye opening study demonstrated that spouses who care for a mate suffering from dementia were more likely to develop the same condition, with husband caregivers at a much greater risk than wife caregivers.
Wives who cared for husbands with dementia were nearly four times more likely to develop dementia than wives of men who didn’t have dementia, while husband caregivers in the same circumstances were almost 12 times more likely to develop the disease.
So what exactly is it that causes the risk of developing Alzheimer’s to skyrocket? You can’t catch it, can you? Researchers think the root cause is the stress that comes along with these caregiving situations.
Ralph Nixon, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist and Alzheimer’s disease expert at NYU and vice chairman of the Medical & Scientific Advisory Council at the Alzheimer’s Association feels that “the amount of stress involved in caring for a spouse with dementia is tremendous,and stress is a known risk factor for dementia.”
Healthy diet and exercise are key factors of good brain health, and both of these areas tend to falter when one is stressed out. It is critical that caregivers look after themselves properly, making sure to rest, to visit a doctor regularly and to maintain social ties.
Since men tend to rely on their wives to serve as the impetus for seeing the doctor and keeping up with friends and family, they are more apt than women caregivers to let these things slide when their spouse is cognitively impaired – thereby increasing their risk of high cholesterol, blood pressure and other conditions that can lead to dementia.