My parents […] had just bought an apartment in Washington to be closer to me, so I could help with my father’s care. My mother claimed he was getting too hard for her to handle on her own, though I never saw it. Whenever I visited them in Florida, he was always setting the table, doing the laundry. He seemed fine, despite the fact that he was 10 years into an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Two days later, she dropped dead of a brain aneurysm, in the middle of hosting a dinner party for 14 at their home. It was the way she would have wanted to have gone: the consummate hostess, making her guests comfortable. And the surgeons said it was the death any of them would choose if they could: painless and too quick for fear.
If my mother’s death had been the quickest possible, my father’s was the slowest.
Five years later, just after my father’s death, I interviewed a former Democratic congressman from Iowa, Mike Blouin. He’d taken early retirement to care for his wife of nearly 50 years, Suzie, who’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He told me something startling: that a disproportionate number of caregivers die before the people they’re caring for—especially if, like my mother, they’re not getting any kind of support. “The stress, anxiety, tension—the heart just gives up. They become more susceptible to other diseases,” Blouin told me. “Knowing when you can’t do it any more, it just tears your heart.”
Some estimates show 30 percent of caregivers die before those they’re caring for, but that number increases to 40 percent for Alzheimer’s and dementia. And, startlingly, 70 percent of those caregivers older than 70 succumb before their loved ones.
For other children of caregivers, it may not to be too late to do what I didn’t: check in on your parents, and offer to help.
Read more on Slate.
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