Survey: Caring for Alzheimer’s disease patients affects NJ caregivers

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

The Steiners of Manahawkin have been married for 50 years. They stand by their wedding vows, in sickness and in health. About six years ago, Andrew was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“I’m supposed to take care of him,” said Lois Steiner.

“That’s one of the things that makes it hard because of all the pressure is on her. That’s what really bothers me, that I feel like I’m not contributing enough to our marriage,” said Andrew Steiner.

Nearly one-third of New Jersey residents care or have cared for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia. That’s according to a recent survey released by Alzheimer’s New Jersey conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind. Eighty-five percent of caregivers said that caring for someone with the disease had a negative impact on their emotional health.

“It’s a very significant disease and the results of that survey are really not a surprise but it definitely helps to verify what we already know as an organization, that Alzheimer’s disease is taking a huge toll on residents of New Jersey, “said Ken Zaentz, president and CEO of Alzheimer’s New Jersey.

“There’s very difficult days. Emotionally, it’s hard. We still love each other very much. Andy says it every night before we go to sleep that he cares about me even though sometimes he’s in another place,” said Lois.

The Manahawkin resident finds comfort in a support group. The survey indicates 51 percent of caregivers spend more than 20 hours per week on caregiving activities.

Jersey Shore University Medical Center Neurologist Dr. Stephen Martino offers these comments:

“A lot of the times, unfortunately, I see it taking more effect on the caregiver than the patient itself. A lot of times, the caregiver comes in and starts talking to me saying I’m tired I’m fatigued, I can’t do it by myself, where can I turn to, who can I see?” he said.

Sixty percent of survey respondents said care giving affected their physical well-being.

“We know caregiving can cause stress-related illnesses like heart attack and stroke,” said Zaentz.

“I tell them listen you have to take care of yourself…a lot of my caregivers that are here in this office have medical problems as a result, they’re not sleeping right and they’re not eating right,” said Stephen Martino.

Although Andrew still helps around the home, Lois handles more of the household duties now.

“One of the physicians we did see said he won’t help you forever. I started thinking about that, it’s a difficult job,” said Lois.

Martino says after initial diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, patients typically live eight to 10 years with the disease. It progresses slowly over that time. It starts with short term memory loss, for example, forgetting where you put your keys. And eventually, leads to patients being unable to care for themselves.

That’s not something Lois focuses on. She says she takes it one day at a time. As for Andrew, he’s so grateful for the love and support.

“It’s hard to express yourself, how much you appreciate it,” said Andrew.

And once again, before he falls asleep, he plans to tell his wife that he loves her.