According to the 2021 Alzheimer’s Association report, there are more than 6.2 million Americans, 65 years of age or older, who are currently living with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The neuropathological progression of AD, unlike other neurodegenerative diseases, is characterized by its abundance of extracellular amyloid plaques and intracellular neurofibrillary tangles, both of which increase with time and are thought to be responsible for a reduction in brain function, especially in the hippocampus and the frontal cortex, which are essential for memory and personality changes, respectively. Due to these changes, patients are not the only individuals affected by the disease; caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients are often called the “invisible second patient” because they are greatly affected by the progression.
The current study looks at the caregiver’s experience and perception of the progression of AD in patients, and compares these experiences to those of non-AD caregivers. Participants that identified either as a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient or a caregiver for a patient with another disease completed an online survey and were given the option to participate in an interview. Caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients reported less social support than non-Alzheimer’s caregivers, which was correlated with higher levels of stress. For AD caregivers, data showed that those who felt that they were aging fast also experienced declines in their own physical health. Caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients require access to more resources that can help them cope with the burden of being a full time caregiver for a person with a neurodegenerative disease.