Women are at the epicenter of the Alzheimer’s crisis. An estimated 3.2 million, or two-thirds of American seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease, are women. In Texas, that equates to nearly ¼ million women living with Alzheimer’s disease. Not only are women more likely to get the disease, they are more likely to be the caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s. Studies consistently show women make up 60 to 70 percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers. This means about 10 million women currently provide unpaid care to someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
“Consider a life of stress, strain, and sacrifice. These are the lives of women living with Alzheimer’s,” says Diana Kerwin, MD, and Chair of the Dallas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Caregiving responsibilities take a toll on women’s health and well-being. Many of these Alzheimer’s caregivers say their responsibilities are physically stressful and the majority finds them emotionally stressful. Feeling isolated can be a result of caregiving duties, and for women, this isolation is linked to depression. Caregiving duties can also lead to adverse consequences in the workplace. Women Alzheimer’s caregivers often quit work to become a caregiver because their duties become too burdensome. Among working women caregivers, 20 percent have gone from working full to part time, compared with only 3 percent of working male caregivers.
“Knowledge is power,” Kerwin notes. A local initiative, Your Brain Matters, is a volunteer community education program that raises awareness, provides information, and offers resources about the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on women. Currently, 170 volunteers are at work in Dallas county educating people about the early warning signs of the disease. Women need to know, in their 60s, they are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, as they are to develop breast cancer, over the rest of their lives. With this awareness, women can recognize the value of sharing any suspicions or symptoms with their family and physician. After a positive diagnosis, women, families, and physicians together can access important information; review medication options; determine medical and legal planning needs; and address any final wishes. Care and support resources or volunteer interest in Your Brain Matters is available through the Alzheimer’s Associations 24-hour Helpline 1.800.272.3900 or online at www.alz.org.