Caring For Mother’s With Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Mother’s Day is upon us again. I admit I have not been a fan for many years. My Mother passed away when I was 27-years-old and I have spent the last 24 years trying to reframe how I feel on this sometimes stormy, sometimes glorious spring weekend.

Along with the distant memories of my Mom — her loving touch, stern expectations and fierce love for her three daughters — I find myself focused on the caregiving and “mothering” that we all do. So whether or not we are a mother, someone is likely in our care. My work has probably bent me this way. I have had the privilege of working side by side with women living with Alzheimer’s and dementia and the daughters who care for/with them for more than 30 years and I have come to know that dementia is a woman’s disease.

My Mother, who did her best to care for her father with early-onset (likely football induced) dementia in the 1960’s, would be astounded at the progress in resources for caregivers, but she would be much more dismayed in the number of women still dealing with this disease more than half a century later.

Today, nearly two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women. While Mom would be pleased that the NFL and others are addressing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), she would be incensed that it often gets more attention than women’s plight with Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 3.2 million women age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s. Women in their sixties are almost twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer. Perhaps the NFL players should wear purple instead of pink for a few of their games?

The toll that dementia takes on women is not just measured in the people currently living with the disease, but also in those who find themselves as care partners. Studies cited by the Alzheimer’s Association consistently show that women make up 60-70 percent of Alzheimer’s care partners. This means that roughly 10 million women are currently providing unpaid care to someone with dementia.

The statistics are staggering, especially when you simultaneously consider that 43.5 million American women between the ages of 15-50 are mothers and roughly 35 percent of those same age women who gave birth last year are single. Whoa.

It is very likely that the women in your life need more than flowers and chocolate covered strawberries this Sunday. If you know a woman who is actively caring for someone with dementia consider a gift that truly helps. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Offer some respite time. There are 2.3 times more women than men who provide on-duty care 24 hours a day for someone with Alzheimer’s — a day off would be a wonderful thing!
  2. Ask if there are items or alterations you could provide to the house to make her caregiving tasks easier. Women care partners are more likely than men to help with the more intimate and strenuous personal cares such as toileting, bathing, and managing incontinence.
  3. Offer a supportive ear and commit to staying in contact more often. Studies show that female care partners receive less support than male care partners. Even women caring for husbands with advanced dementia receive less support from family and friends than men caring for wives in similar situations.

If you want to read more about women and dementia, please go to the Alzheimer’s Association Web site for the facts.

Juliet Holt Klinger, Senior Director of Dementia Care for Brookdale Senior Living is a gerontologist specializing in person-centered programs for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. As a trainer and program designer for close to 30 years, she has developed and operationalized programs for national companies representing both skilled nursing and assisted living levels of dementia care.
Juliet holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and an Aging Studies Certificate from the University of Iowa and a Master’s Degree in Gerontology from the University of Northern Colorado. 
In her role for Brookdale, Juliet currently designs and innovates care pathways and programming for Brookdale’s 560+ dementia care communities. Brookdale’s dementia care solutions span from its newest early-stage dementia care communities to skilled nursing and assisted living levels of care. 

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