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For Alzheimer's Caregivers, a Much-Needed Break

Study confirms adult day care provides beneficial time off

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Also, adult care centers are not available in all areas -- especially rural areas, Steinberg noted -- and families typically have to foot the bill. In the United States, adult care centers charge about $70 a day, on average.

There are other types of "respite services," such as home health aides, but finances are still an obstacle. Home-based help is even more expensive, Zarit said. Caregivers may also be able to find local groups that send a volunteer to their home to give them a needed break -- though that typically amounts to a few hours of help a week, or every other week.

Vann has also found help through a caregiver support group designed specifically for spouses, offered by the Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation. "My advice is, get yourself into a good support group," he said. It's helpful not only because the other group members know what you're going through, Vann noted, but because they can also share practical advice.

As for finances, Vann has been relatively lucky in that he and his wife had taken out long-term care insurance, which helps cover the costs of services such as home care, respite care and nursing homes. Medicare, the government-funded health insurance program for older Americans, does not usually cover long-term care.

And that's a huge problem for families, said Steinberg. "We're really pressing for financial relief for them," she said.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, and experts predict that with the aging Baby Boomer generation, the number of Americans with Alzheimer's could triple by 2050, to nearly 14 million.

That would substantially add to an already hefty economic toll of the disease. A recent study found that in 2010, the average cost of caring for a dementia patient was as high as $56,000. Most of that money went to long-term care, and families bore a large share of the burden.

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