Caregivers often feel threatened by behaviours of person with Alzheimer's disease

    Alzheimer's Foundation for Caregiving urges families to seek support

    TORONTO, Jan. 13 /CNW Telbec/ - According to a new survey conducted for
the Alzheimer's Foundation for Caregiving in Canada (AFCC) among caregivers of
people with Alzheimer's disease, behavioural symptoms such as agitation and
aggression are common in their loved ones and take a significant toll on
primary caregivers, especially those who feel scared or threatened by these
    "There is no doubt that family caregivers face enormous challenges and
issues regarding short-term and long-term care needs when behavioural symptoms
appear. Reaching out for help, taking advantage of support services and
exploring possible interventions can make a world of difference," said Taras
Rohatyn, AFCC's president.
    In the survey, the majority of caregivers had observed agitation and more
than a third had observed aggression among the person they were caring for
with Alzheimer's disease. Caregivers also reported a high incidence of
disorientation and mood swings. In addition, almost one quarter (23 per cent)
of caregivers had felt scared or threatened by the individual's behaviours.
    While almost all caregivers said they were open about the fact that
someone close to them has Alzheimer's disease, they were least likely to
inform neighbors, work colleagues and employers. And while more than
two-thirds of caregivers were comfortable discussing symptoms like
disorientation (71 per cent) and mood swings (69 per cent) with people outside
their immediate family, the comfort level fell significantly for other
symptoms, including aggression (57 per cent)-indicating that being candid
about some symptoms of Alzheimer's disease causes more discomfort than
discussing other ones.
    According to Dr. Nathan Herrmann, head of the Division of Geriatric
Psychiatry at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, "Behaviours such
as agitation and aggression are common as Alzheimer's disease progresses, and
caregivers seem somewhat reluctant to talk about these behaviours. This might
be because they feel embarrassed by these behaviours for the patient, or
because they may feel guilty that their caregiving has elicited these
behaviours. Caregivers concerned about behaviours such as agitation and
aggression should open up and speak to their doctors because drug and non-drug
treatment options are available."
    While research indicates that antipsychotic drugs are widely prescribed
to treat behavioural symptoms related to Alzheimer's disease, there is
evidence that these drugs are associated with increased mortality rates in
elderly individuals with dementia(1),(2).

    Caregivers need more support in dealing with agitation and aggression

    In general, caregivers have experienced the following physical changes
since they began taking care of someone with Alzheimer's disease: fatigue (47
per cent), difficulty sleeping (36 percent), headaches (23 per cent), back
pain (21 per cent), weight gain (19 per cent) and worsening of existing
conditions (15 per cent).
    When it comes to handling agitated or aggressive behaviour, these
caregivers indicate they could use more help: more than half of caregivers
would like more support from outside their family and just under half would
like more support from their family. And nearly six in ten (58 per cent) would
consider residential care for the person with Alzheimer's disease if the
person's aggression or agitation became too difficult to handle.
    In addition, with problems of aggression and agitation, those caregivers
who have felt threatened or scared are more likely to have experienced a wide
range of emotions, including sadness, anxiety and being short-tempered. These
respondents in particular expressed a desire for more assistance and were even
more likely than respondents in general to consider placing loved ones in
residential care.
    Surprisingly, 40 per cent of respondents report that the person they are
caring for with Alzheimer's disease is not taking any medication. And more
than 50 per cent said they had not asked their healthcare provider about other
medications available to treat agitation and aggression.
    The survey also demonstrated that caregivers in Quebec are the least
likely in Canada to be extremely open about the fact that someone close to
them as Alzheimer's disease. "Stigma, denial, embarrassment and other issues
often restrain caregivers," said AFCC's Rohatyn. "We encourage these
caregivers to reach out to organizations like the AFCC, which can be
invaluable resources for dealing with the challenging symptoms of Alzheimer's

    Survey methodology

    Harris/Decima conducted an online survey of 509 caregivers between
October 27 and November 11, 2008. The respondents included 250 primary
caregivers for someone with Alzheimer's disease and 259 family members or
close friends involved in the ongoing care of someone with Alzheimer's
disease. The data was weighted by gender, age and region to match the
proportion of the Canadian population.

    About the Alzheimer's Foundation for Caregiving in Canada

    The Alzheimer's Foundation for Caregiving in Canada (AFCC) is a national
not-for profit charity headquartered in Richmond Hill, Ontario and provides
programs to meet the educational, emotional, practical and social needs of its
caregiver member organization who service families affected by Alzheimer's
disease and related illnesses. For information, call (toll-free)
1-877-321-2594 or visit

    (1) Gill S. et al., Annals of Internal Medicine 2007;146:775-787
    (2) Health Canada safety warning, accessed at

For further information:

For further information: Robert Appleton, AFCC, 1-877-321-2594,; Roch Landriault, NATIONAL Public Relations - MONTREAL,
(514) 843-2345,; Pamela Arora, NATIONAL Public
Relations - TORONTO, (416) 848-1372,

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