Mar 14, 2024 - News

How caregivers can boost their brain health

A photograph of an adult man holding up a sign saying I'm your son to his father who had Alzheimer's.

Journalist Richard Lui was a caretaker for his father, who had Alzheimer's before he died in 2021. Photo: Courtesy of Vino Wong

The estimated 53 million Americans who provide care for adult family members may face severe but under-acknowledged physical and mental health challenges that increase the toll on families, experts say.

Why it matters: As baby boomers age, the number of family caregivers is rising, with nearly one in six Americans currently serving as caregivers, NBC/MSNBC journalist Richard Lui told Axios.

By the numbers: There are about 6.7 million Alzheimer's patients in the United States, and an estimated 11 million Americans providing unpaid care for them, said Kate Zhong, geriatric psychiatrist and director of innovation at UNLV's Brainnovation Initiative.

  • The prevalence of depression is higher among people who take care of dementia or Alzheimer's patients (30% to 40%) than other caregivers, Zhong told Axios.
  • Among older caregivers who care for people with severe memory issues, 32% have thoughts about suicide, compared with 2.7% of the same peer group in the general population.
  • 66% of dementia caregivers are female, and many of them have a family history of related disorders, both of which are risk factors for developing dementia, she said.

What they're saying: Caregivers in this country spend an enormous amount of time, money and effort to care for their loved ones and it can take a "devastating" toll, said Zhong.

Zoom in: Based on a 2023 report, Washington has 820,000 family caregivers who provide an estimated 770 million hours of care, according to AARP Washington spokesperson Jason Erskine.

Be smart: Brain health is at the center of well-being and Zhong suggests practicing AARP's six pillars of brain health: Be social, engage your brain, manage stress, exercise, sleep well and eat right.

What's next: Zhong and Lui, who made the movie "Unconditional" after taking time off to care for his father with Alzheimer's, will speak at an event at Town Hall Seattle Tuesday night.

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