Nov. 20, 2000 -- Ten years ago, Margo Aparicio rescued her
widowed mother, Genevieve, from near death because of a neglectful aide.
Although she did it out of love, Aparicio never imagined the toll caregiving
would take on her health and emotions.
Genevieve suffered not only from diabetes, incontinence, and dementia but
also severe emotional problems: She needed to know that someone cared. So
Aparicio relocated her mother from 150 miles away into an apartment above her
own in San Francisco. For four years, Aparicio bathed her mother, fed her and
cleaned up after her, while also working full time. Then depression descended -- without warning. "I would wake
up realizing my day was going to be nonstop horrific with no relief in
sight," says Aparicio, 45. Soon, Aparicio grew so depressed she became
isolated and angry. "When I found myself screaming at my mother and blaming
her, I realized I needed help."
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Aparicio is not alone: A new survey from the National Family
Caregivers Association shows that the number of persons who provided care for
an elderly, disabled, or chronically ill friend or relative during the past
year is more than twice as large as had been previously thought. Survey results
indicate 26.6% of the adult population was involved in caregiving during the
past 12 months. That translates to more than 54 million people.
Most caregivers are women, many of whom also juggle work and child
care. Some do the occasional grocery shopping for their aging parents;
others provide round-the-clock care. And although most of these women have
taken on this role willingly, the unrelenting demands exact a high toll. Some
60% of caregivers say they experience depression, according to an earlier
survey by the National Family Caregivers Association. The rate is even higher
-- up to 76% -- among those caring for loved ones with dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease.
The price of such depression and burnout is high both for the
caregivers and their aging parents. Caregivers suffer more stress-related
illness than others their age, according to the association. And, ironically,
burnout is the leading reason caregivers say they eventually put their loved
ones in nursing homes.
But there is good news. Experts say family caregivers can often
protect themselves from depression -- if they recognize the signs and seek
The greatest danger to health is in ignoring the warning signs
of depression, says the National Mental
Health Association. Their experts advise caregivers to watch for feelings
of persistent sadness, anxiety, or fatigue. People suffering depression often
feel guilty or worthless and have difficulty concentrating.
The key to prevention is realizing that you are not alone and
you should not try to take on this responsibility alone. "This is the other
mid-life crisis, but there's a lot of good help out there," says geriatric
social worker Joan Booty. "There are community resources and support groups
-- people have a huge ability to help one another."