According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging, approximately 35 million citizens in the US are aged 65 and over. Within the next forty or so years this number is expected to double and those aged 85 and over will triple (Hays & Erford, 2010).
One area of common concern for older adults is worry related to physical changes which can affect their self concept. This often results in reduced independence as they lose the ability to perform normal daily routines or self care. Memory loss or the fear of memory loss is also a concern.
“Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that damages and eventually destroys brain cells, leading to memory loss, changes in thinking, and other brain functions. It usually develops slowly and gradually gets worse as more brain cells wither and die. Ultimately, Alzheimer’s is fatal, and currently, there is no cure.” (Alzheimer’s Association, 2013)
Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth leading cause of death for those aged sixty-five and older in our country. This year there are 5.2 million people in the US living with this disease. In 2012, 15.4 million caregivers gave in excess of 17.5 billion hours of unpaid service. The monetary cost of this amount of time is estimated at two hundred and sixteen billion dollars. In the state of New Jersey there were 439,000 known Alzheimer’s caregivers in 2012.
Caregivers are often essential in the daily care of older adults. The personal cost to them can be very great as well. The stress associated with providing care to Alzheimer’s patients is rated as high to very high. More than a third of caregivers report experiencing symptoms of depression. “Sixty percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers become sick due to the stress and die before the one they take care of does” (Matthews, 2013).
Due to the increased lifespan medical advances have made possible, middle aged children are finding themselves becoming caregivers to their aging parent(s). Often they have little or no information on caring for the aged or what resources are available to them. Family members experience a variety of challenges including confinement, infringement on lifestyle, restricted social life, work and family conflicts, as well as physical and emotional stress (Hays & Erford, 2010).
Feeling overwhelmed and depressed, many caregivers are in need of counseling. There are various group counseling opportunities that may be helpful and low cost. Groups for caregivers provide affirmation, support and education. They help link caregivers to those who can help them handle the unique challenges of their situation. As the population of older adults continues to grow, counseling groups for those caring for them will become more necessary and more prevalent (Gladding, 2012). The Alzheimer’s Association website (http://www.alz.org) as well as local offices on aging and senior centers provide resources that older adults and caregivers may find helpful.
Groups can also be helpful for older adults to provide support and comfort as well as improving self concept. Through group counseling the advantages of growing older can be highlighted and the golden years can be more fulfilling.
Gladding, S. (2012). Groups, a counseling specialty. (6th ed., pp. 301-315). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Hays, D., & Erford, B. (2010). Developing multicultural counseling competencies. (pp. 181-3). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Matthews, A. (2013, July 31). Interview by K.S. Larsen . Support groups for Alzheimer’s caregivers.