A new study has provided some insight into the massive toll caring for a spouse with dementia can take.
According to the findings, almost half of carers spend all of their waking time looking after their spouse and 15% have given up their jobs to care for their loved one.
This marks the largest study ever undertaken in Ireland to examine the health and wellbeing of people caring for their spouses with dementia. It was carried out by researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD).
It revealed that almost 79% of carers provide 81-100% of the care required by their spouse, and almost half spend all of their waking time looking after their loved one. Women are more likely to provide this level of care than men.
While most carers agree that there are positive aspects to caring, such as a better appreciation of life and feeling needed, depression and anxiety are common.
Furthermore, most carers are themselves taking prescribed medication for chronic health conditions, such as arthritis and diabetes, and they are more likely to have a lower quality of life.
Around one in three have difficulties with at least one core caring activity, such as preparing food and managing appointments.
Most carers feel they have no choice when it comes to taking on this role, however, they take it on willingly.
The study said that the needs of family carers must be more thoroughly assessed and addressed.
"Carers are an invaluable resource, but sadly they are not adequately supported in their role and consequently their health may be affected. If we are serious about supporting people to live well and die in their chosen setting, then we need to invest in quality services to support both carers and those being cared for," commented Prof Sabina Brennan of TCD.
She noted that some people may not visit a person with dementia because of fear or a lack of understanding, but she appealed to people to ‘call around and have a chat with the carer'.
"Even a simple gesture like that could make a difference and lessen the sense of isolation that carers can experience. I would also urge carers to look after themselves. It is sensible and not selfish to look after your own health, and make a point of seeking social contact," Prof Brennan said.
According to Pat McLoughlin, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, becoming a carer for a loved one with dementia ‘is a life-changing experience'.
"Carers play an immensely valuable role in understanding and supporting people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Our current health and social care system depends largely on family carers who provide the main bulk of care. Its estimated value to the State is in the region of €807 million per annum," he pointed out.
He reminded people that the Alzheimer Society provides a range of specialist services nationwide for those with dementia and their carers, including a national helpline, social clubs, support groups, day care and respite centres.
For more information on the Alzheimer Society, click here
The study was funded by the Alzheimer Society and the Health Research Board and was launched to coincide with National Carers Week (June 12-18).