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Supporting Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers

Thousands of Oregonians are caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and their own health and well-being is often put on the backburner.

PORTLAND, Ore. — More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and it takes nearly double the number of people to care for them. More than 11 million people in the U.S. provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

In Oregon, more than 130,000 family caregivers bear the burden of Alzheimer’s disease. In Washington, it’s more than double that at 297,000 people.

Dr. Drew Oliveira, a family physician and Senior Executive Medical Director at Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon, said the health and well-being of the caregiver often gets put on the backburner.

“It’s stressful and people who are caregivers will report about a 20% incidence of depression. Many of them have physical health issues themselves. Over half of them have a chronic disease that they have to manage as well,” Dr. Oliveira said. “And when you’re caring for someone else, you’re not necessarily caring for yourself and you become overwhelmed. So that caregiver really needs to ask for help.”

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As our population continues to age, Dr. Oliveira says support really needs to come from the whole community. That includes family and friends of not just the person living with dementia, but the caregivers as well.

“If you know somebody who is a caregiver, see what you can do to help them. Maybe that’s not doing direct care for them, but maybe, I’m going to go get groceries for you, I’m going to mow your lawn for you, I’m going to take some things off your plate – maybe give you a break so you can take care of yourself,” he said.

There are also resources in the community to support caregivers at any time. The Alzheimer’s Association is a good place to start, and the Oregon and Southwest Washington chapter has local support groups, programs, and recourses to help you and your loved one through an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. 

RELATED: New research from Oregon State University could help people with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's

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