Alzheimer's disease takes a toll on the caregiver

Mike & Carol

Alzheimer's disease isn't just brutal for those with the disease. More than five million Americans have Alzheimer's, and each of them has about three unpaid caregivers. Many are spouses or family members who suffer right along with their loved ones. CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook revisits a couple coping with Alzheimer's.

NEW YORK - During five decades of marriage, Mike Daly worked in law enforcement while his wife Carol worked at everything else.

"She raised our kids, she had a job, she cleaned the house, she made the beds and put up with me," Mike said. "All that has changed for us - is the roles."

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Now, it's Mike who runs the house. He feeds Carol, and even puts on her makeup. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease seven years ago.

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Carol's memory was slipping when LaPook first met them in 2008. At the time, Carol could remember that she was 65 years old. Now, Carol said, "How old am I? 80? No? I don't know."

Mike was feeling the strain in 2008. "It's hard to deal with," he said. Three years later, he's gained 15 pounds and takes medications for anxiety and sleep. He knows he should exercise but just can't find the time.

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Mike is one of the nearly 15 million Americans providing 17 billion hours of unpaid Alzheimer's care a year. As a result, they're more likely to develop health problems of their own - such as depression and high blood pressure.

Alzheimer's Association Chief Medical and Scientific officer Dr. William Thies said, "There are many cases reported where an individual becomes a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's disease and they will in fact die before the person with Alzheimer's disease because of the care-related stress."

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"Do you think this is taking a toll on you?" LaPook asked.

"I'd be lying to say no, of course," Mike replied. "But it's life."

"Caring for Carol is not easy, but it does not stress me out," Mike said in an email. "Yes, I know the day will come when I will not be able to care for Carol by myself. Yes, I will eventually have to see out help."

Thies suggests "finding that help early is going to give you the best opportunity to cope with the disease."

As the toll on Mike mounts, Carol's condition declines. But their love remains stronger than ever.

  • Jon Lapook
    Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for CBS News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook