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Alzheimer's Takes Its Toll On Caregivers Too

Alzheimer's can be a devastating disease that not only for those who are affected, but also their caregivers. A new study shows caregivers of Alzheimer's patients are more likely to get sick themselves reports CBS 2's Paul Moniz..

For seven years, Arthur DiPaolo has watched helplessly as Alzheimer's has slowly consumed his wife Edith. But the disease is also consuming him.

Edith's 24 hour a day care leaves 79 year old Arthur stressed out, depressed and now researches say open to a host of opportunistic infections.

"It just gets to a point where you want to scream, you know there is nothing you can do," admits Arthur.

Alzheimer's affects more than 4 million Americans and Arthur is part of the legions of caregivers who may be at risk for illness themselves. A new study from Ohio State University shows caregivers are more susceptible to pneumonia than non-caregivers, even after receiving a vaccine to prevent it. Other studies show chronic stress depresses the immune system, increasing the risk of flu, heart disease, stroke and other illnesses.

Lorraine Ruggieri knows the negative health effects first hand. Her dad died of Alzheimer's and now her mom has it. Lorraine says "I had a great deal of problems with my asthmatic condition, difficulty sleeping, always tired and depressed."

Warning signs that caregivers need help include a sense of hopelessness, exhaustion from the physical and emotional demands and a worsening of a health condition. Lorraine now runs a support group through The Alzheimer's Association.

While new drugs are offering hope to those suffering from Alzheimer's, advocates say that caregivers seldom seek help to lighten the load.

While drugs are offering hope to those suffering from Alzheimer's advocates like Jed Levine of the Alzheimer's Association tell us that caregivers seldom seek help to lighten the load. "Often people feel guilty for having asked it. They are concerned about the quality of health - is somebody going to provide the help the same way that I do it?"

Arthur DiPaolo relies on his faith, a daily aide, a support group and psychotherapy to help him face painful choices. Recently he decided to place his wife of 56 years in a nursing home. It's especially tough on Arthur because he and his wife have no children to help out in the caregiving.

The health of caregivers will become increasingly important because the number of Alzheimer's patients is expected to mushroom. By the year 2050 as many as 14 million Americans will have the disease, which is more than triple the number now.

We want to stress that help for caregivers is available. You should contact The Alzheimer's Association or your nearest senior center.

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