Adult children who are forced to take on the responsibility of caring for a parent with Alzheimer's are specially vulnerable to bouts of depression, both severe and mild, which may be prolonged until well after the period of caring for the individual with Alzheimer's disease is over. In research reviewing the psychological impact of adult children caring for their parent's with Alzheimer's, "studies have found that caregivers of people with Alzheimer's disease often have higher depression levels than controls, or they may experience elevated average levels of depressive symptoms," (Sanders & Adams 289). Higher rates of depression are common in children who are forced to see their parents slowly unwind and loose sight of who they once were. There are heavy feelings of guilt for not being able to do more to help save the mind of the person who brought them into this life and cared for them when they needed it. The expression of that depression can also be at times more volatile and strong than in other individuals who do not have such a lofty burden to carry on their own backs. Not only is depression an expression of intense mental stress and psychological pain, it also manifests itself as a physical disease. Research has proven that "Depression is both a physical and emotional experience," (Powell & Courtice 76). It is so heavy on the mind that it weighs down on the physical body. Depression itself is the body's warning system that it has had an overload of emotional and psychological stress, "A depressed person is alerted by his physical warning system when he psychologically denies his emotional reactions and feelings," (Powell & Courtice 77). This physical manifestation of depression can be exuded by a wide variety of different symptoms and physical expressions. Physical symptoms of depression include headaches, dizziness, fainting, blurred vision, rapid heartbeat, loss of body control, trouble breathing, nausea, aches and cramps, weakness, and shakiness (Powell & Courtice 77). Such weight of caring for an ailing parent can severely disrupt the natural emotional balance within the mind and body of the adult child caregiver.
The severity and nature of the depression experienced by that caregiver is relative to each unique and tragic situation of care. Not every case of Alzheimer's is alike, and not every caretaker can deal with the stress appropriately. The amount and severity of stress can also widely vary from individual situation to situation. According to research, "Caregiver depressions is often mediated by the quality of the relationship of the caregiver dyad and the amount of burden or overload felt by the caregiver," (Sanders & Adams 289). If a caretaker receives very little support from his or her family, and the doctors and professionals assigned to the patient's care as well, that caretaker is bound to carry more weight and stress than an individual with much more support. The professional team can offer support in more ways than physical support for the care of the ailing parent. Doctors and nurses can provide emotional support for caregivers or provide options and alternatives for caregivers to find support in treating their depression and/or anxiety caused by the situation. Without any support, depression symptoms can worsen and become a serious threat to the mental well being of the caretaker, which eventually might cause physical vulnerabilities to the individual in need of care. Research has shown that adult daughters are particularly vulnerable to the struggle with depression, as seen in research (Rubio et al. 58). Having enough stress over roles to begin with, this population proves to have a hard time coping with the mental stress of caretaking and finding enough support to help individuals walk through such an existence depression and anxiety free.
Working with analyzing the psychological affects of adult children caring for parents with Alzheimer's can be extremely difficult. It is hard to measure seemingly immeasurable emotions and stressors which are present during the duration of care and afterwards. The individual in need of care has some freedom in loosing that painful realization that he or she is lost, "Indeed, when memory fades, so do the treasured moments of love, joy, and intimacy, as well as sorrow, pain, and anger," (Powell & Courtice 51). However, that reality remains well engrained in the mind of the caretaker. Thus, it is the caretaker who is most affected by the negative emotions and responses to stressors of the disease itself, not the patient. These emotional responses are very hard to accurately measure thus implement treatment for those who need it. Some studies have found ways to measure emotional components and with their breakthroughs come new hopes of providing support and services for adult caregivers who attend to their ailing parent's daily needs (Rubio et al. 55). With solid information regarding the psychological affects of caring for one's parents with Alzheimer's disease can come some hope for resolution through provisions made by experts and professionals in the field. As seen before, a caregiver with more support has a better chance at warding off signs and symptoms of depression. Therefore, support for caregivers through people like social workers, nurses, and support groups, can help improve the mental well being of caregivers caring for their parents immensely. Such findings lead to the opinion that "Social workers have the opportunity to assume a leadership position in developing and evaluating practice strategies that may be effective in treating grief in caregivers," (Sanders & Adams 292).
Durant, Thomas J. & Christian, Ollie G. "Caregiving to Aging Patients." Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table. Questia.com. 2007.
Powell, Lenore S. & Courtice, Katie. Alzheimer's Disease: A Guide for Families." Perseus Publishing. Redding MA. 1993.
Rubio, Doris McGartland; Berg-Weger, Maria; & Tebb, Susan S. "Assessing the Validity and Reliability of Well-Being and Stress in Family Caregivers." Social Work Research. 1999. 23(1):54-68.