When I first started writing about Alzheimer’s, I already knew that women were more likely to develop the disease than men. This seemed commonsensical, since women tend to live longer—about six years longer, on average. The point was driven home by Maria Shriver during the national meeting of the Alzheimer’s Association national meeting in March in Washington, who made clear that 65 percent of people with Alzheimer’s are women. Shriver’s father, Sargent Shriver, a prominent figure in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who lived past 90, was somewhat of an outlier. Maria Shriver cared for her dad through the culmination of his long life.
In a May 10 article for the health and medical news service “STAT: Reporting from the frontiers of health and medicine,” reporter Roberta Diaz Brinton commented, “While caregiving for loved ones with dementia can certainly be meaningful, dispiriting routines such as toileting, undergarment-changing and bathing are enduring challenges. Lack of daily predictability in dementia-linked symptoms intensifies the burden.” Not surprisingly, women are typically the primary caregiver for the person’s loved one, and the stress of providing the care can take a toll on the caregiver.
Diaz Brinton was not the only writer to highlight absenteeism recently. Another article about the disproportionate role of women as caregivers appeared this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA]. Written by Nicholas T. Bott and two other researchers, the writers point out that women provide roughly two-thirds of all elder care.
The statistics are stark. Daughters are 28 percent more likely to be caregivers than sons. As the JAMA article notes dryly, “The best long-term care insurance in our country is a conscientious daughter.” Eighty-three percent of caregiving comes from family members. As a result, caregivers often feel dispirited, if not downright exhausted. And with a new administration in place, federal funding for caregivers are likely to be a low priority, at best. One novel approach developed by the Obama administration would enable Medicare Part E to allow seniors to “trade reduced acute inpatient for new long-term care.” It’s an intriguing idea. But with the Trump administration in a state of siege these days, it’s hard to imagine the Medicare Part E plan coming to fruition.