Girl caregiver and old man playing chess

According to statistics compiled by the National Center on Caregiving, more than 43 million Americans have served as unpaid caregivers at some point in the last 12 months. Those caregivers typically monitor the needs and actions of a family member, friend or neighbor. Nearly 16 million of those being provided with care have been diagnosed with some type of dementia. Experts and advocates call it an epidemic and say it takes a heavy toll on the caregivers.

According to professionals, the consequences of caregiving are many. Though caregiving is almost always done out of love, it customarily means giving up a career, managing medical appointments, battling with insurance providers, and losing a lot of sleep. The caregiver can spend days and weeks on constant alert, and often faces an even more psychologically damaging outcome—complete isolation from the company of others.

People who serve as caregivers say that the isolation comes from both directions—they are reluctant to take their loved one out of the house, as the logistics of doing so can be daunting, and they can encounter resistance from others who feel “uncomfortable” having a person with dementia in their midst. Many caregivers say that going out in public with a loved one with dementia is more stressful than just staying home.

In addition, caregivers say visitors are few and far between, as people can be reluctant to expose themselves to the realities that a caregiver regularly addresses. Furthermore, many caregivers admit that their lives are so focused on the care they are giving that they feel they have nothing else to add to a conversation.

Medical experts say that isolation can have actual physical impact on a person. Studies link loneliness and isolation not only to depression, but higher risk of heart disease and stroke. In addition, a Dutch study found a link between loneliness and dementia.

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