Women’s History Month may have ended, but we must still raise the flag for awareness and address the great need of having uncomfortable conversations about how this disease is highly affecting one gender more than another. Men get Alzheimer’s as well, but women get it and serve as caregivers at a disproportionately higher rate.
Of the 5 million or more Americans living with Alzheimer’s Disease two-thirds are women. It’s not a disease due to old age as once thought to be the reason why women are at a greater risk; because we’re living longer than men. But new studies are suggesting the early onset of Alzheimer’s may come about because of biological and social reasons; such as biological or genetic variations or differences in life experiences.
And not only are women first in line to get the disease, we’re also serving in greater numbers as caregivers to loved one who have Alzheimer’s and Dementia. I remember asking myself when I was caring for my Mom when I fell ill, “who cares for the Caregiver?” Ladies this is a battle cry that we have to be our best self, we have to take care of our health so that we are able to take care of someone else and be our sister’s keepers by checking in on one another.
Here are some facts from the Alzheimer’s Association:
- In the US alone, about 13 MILLION WOMEN are either living with Alzheimer’s or caring for someone who has it.
- Almost TWO-THIRDS of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women.
- Women in their 60s are more than TWICE AS LIKELY to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer.
- MORE THAN 60% of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are women. More specifically, over one-third of dementia caregivers are daughters.
- Women take on MORE CAREGIVING TASKS than their male counterparts – and care for people with more cognitive, functional, and/or behavioral problems.
- Nearly 19% of women Alzheimer’s caregivers had to QUIT WORK either to become a caregiver or because their caregiving duties became too burdensome.
One other factor to consider for women who are serving as caregivers or who fall to the illness is depression. When serving as a caregiver to my Mom, I didn’t think I was depressed. I thought my inability to move forward with my goals, or actions was due to being tired in my role, but after going to therapy sessions, which I highly recommend in general, I discovered, my feelings of being stuck was brought on my depression. It didn’t rear itself in sadness, depression has many faces and it’s not part of being a woman, as some men think.
Here are facts on depression from Mental Health America:
- Approximately 12 MILLION WOMEN in the United States experience clinical depression each year
- About ONE in every EIGHT women can expect to develop clinical depression during their lifetime
- Social factors may also lead to higher rates of clinical depression among women, including stress from work, family responsibilities, the roles and expectations of women and increased rates of sexual abuse and poverty
- Women experience depression at roughly TWICE THE RATE of men
- Fewer than half of the women who experience clinical depression will ever seek care experience depression at roughly twice the rate of men
There are our numbers, so ladies what’s the next step? (and men too… we need all hands on deck)? First we must start having conversations about health and keeping records of at least your nuclear family’s medical history. Next let’s work to remove the stigma of mental health and Alzheimer’s by using your voice and advocating for and supporting our sister-caregivers. Some may wonder how can they help, but may be fearful to ask. Help could mean assisting with housekeeping, watching their loved one by keeping them entertained or fixing a meal, while the caregiver takes a nap or puts their feet up. You could offer to get or bring them groceries, a meal or supplies. Or be a support by sitting and talking with them, making them laugh; anything to lift their spirits will be appreciated.
And with all of the above you must try to live your best wellness self. From personal experience it wasn’t always easy, but I found ways to keep both my Mom and I moving by walking the dog together, or taking a quick walk in the park when her mood allowed. My ace-ace-in-the-hole was my dog. Where ever he was, my Mom wanted to be too.
By incorporating a healthy diet and exercise you can lower modifiable risk factors, meaning factors we can control that may help reduce our risk: diabetes, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, smoking, depression, cognitive inactivity or low educational attainment, and physical inactivity. Remember a healthy body, our root, begets a healthy mind, our leaves.
If you would like more information about Women and Alzheimer’s and the resources and support that’s available please visit the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement.
For caregiver assistance or support, find tips here.
For depressions assistance go here.