Caring for the Caregiver

Carving out time for yourself is key

As of Jan. 1, baby boomers began turning 65 at the rate of one every eight seconds. What does that mean for the members of this generation and their families? For the next 19 years, more than 10,000 Americans per day, or more than 4 million per year, will be at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease simply due to the single most important risk factor for the disease: age.

Alzheimer’s, like other debilitating diseases, doesn’t just affect the patient. It challenges the entire family who must rise to the occasion and become caregivers.

So who cares for the caregivers? The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Cleveland and Las Vegas addresses the challenges faced by caregivers of all types: those who have made caregiving their full-time avocation as well as those juggling the demands of unpaid caregiving and paid employment. The center offers tips and strategies for caring for a loved one with cognitive impairments along with opportunities to understand the disease and its impact.

Oftentimes, individuals do not think of themselves in terms of being a caregiver. Rather, they are devoted family members taking care of someone they love. The snapshot of caregiving statistics paints a vivid picture. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in the United States alone, nearly 15 million individuals provide more than 17 billion hours of unpaid care annually for loved ones with Alzheimer’s.

Caregiving can have a significant effect on the physical and emotional health of an individual. Stress and depression are common. Caregivers are less likely to address their own health needs and are at greater risk for medical conditions such as increased blood pressure and cardiac disease.

Just as we are instructed in an airplane to put our oxygen masks on before assisting others, caregivers need to integrate respite into their routine. Whether visiting with friends, taking a few minutes for a favorite activity or just relaxing, carving out time for a break is one of the most fundamental and challenging skills for all caregivers to learn. This break does not constitute shirking one’s caregiving responsibilities; rather, it is the caregiver’s oxygen mask.

This article was written by Susan Hirsch, Director of Social Services at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Cleveland and Las Vegas. Her motto is, “Who cares for the caregiver? We do!” She can be reached at For more information, visit or

To make a gift supporting the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the Neurological Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit our secure giving site or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.

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