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Danger of Stress in Caring for Alzheimer Victims Told

June 27, 1989|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The stress of caring for a relative with Alzheimer's disease often causes depression and may hasten the onset of potentially fatal diseases, two researchers told a federal advisory panel Monday.

Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Ronald Glaser told the Federal Advisory Panel on Alzheimer's Disease that about a third of the spouses they studied who were looking after an Alzheimer's patient suffered depression, compared to only 1% among people of similar ages who did not have spouses with the illness.

The husband and wife team from Ohio State University also found a much higher incidence of diseases among "care-givers," such as pneumonia and influenza that are among the leading causes of death for Americans older than 75.

Kiecolt-Glaser called these care-givers the "second victims" of Alzheimer's disease, which afflicts an estimated 2.5 million to 4 million Americans. About 25% of people over age 85 have the disease, health experts say, and the number of cases is expected to increase by 60% by the year 2000 as Americans grow older.

Kiecolt-Glaser said that care-givers focus their lives on their afflicted relative and are emotionally battered as a result.

"The spouse is also at risk. They need time off rather desperately," Kiecolt-Glaser said. "People are afraid to visit and they're embarrassed to have people over to the house. There's no one to talk to."

Alzheimer's disease is a gradual, irreversible erosion of brain cells that control thought and memory. Victims often regress to an infant-like state and have wild mood swings and loss of memory. They need around-the-clock attention.

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