Alzheimer's takes toll on caregivers

Much of the care for Alzheimer's patients, particularly in its early stages, is undertaken by family members. The rising numbers of those with the disease — one in three seniors die with Alzheimer's or another dementia — is putting a steadily increasing financial and emotional burden on families. The annual report of the Alzheimer's Association, released Tuesday, estimated the overall cost of care at $200 billion in 2012, and suggested that it would rise to $203 billion this year.

The report set the tab for unpaid care by the 443,000 family caregivers in Virginia at more than $6.2 million. They provide 500 million hours of care for the more than 130,000 in the state who have Alzheimer's, about 35,000 of whom live in Hampton Roads. The annual out-of-pocket costs for each unpaid caregiver averages around $5,000, but almost doubles for those who live more than an hour away.

Charlie Martino, Jr., who lives in Williamsburg, helps to care for his father in Long Island, N.Y., who has a diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer's. He used to fly AirTran from Newport News, which combined with car service set him back $500 each month for the one-hour journey. Now he makes the monthly trek by train, which costs $250, but takes about eight hours. "Long-distance care-giving is 10 times more stressful. There has to be a plan to get there. There needs to be a local network to help get things executed," said Martino, Jr., whose sister lives relatively nearby their father and provides his medication management.

The emotional toll on caretakers is evidenced in the additional health care costs they incur. According to the annual report, those costs amounted to $241 million in 2012 for Virginia's caretakers. Both the necessary level of care and the length of time that care is required contribute to their stress-related illnesses, Alzheimer's Association officials said in a media conference call Tuesday.

The Alzheimer's Association sponsors several free supports for families. The help line, 800-272-3900, is available 24/7. Also, online, people can go to http://www.alzconnected.org, a social networking community for those affected by Alzheimer's and to http://www.alzheimersnavigator.org, a tool designed to help individuals evaluate their needs and develop a customized action plan. The Navigator works in conjunction with Community Resource Finder, a comprehensive database of resources organized by ZIP code.

Alzheimer's help

Charlie Martino Jr. is a group facilitator for the Alzheimer's Association; his group meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. at R. F. Wilkinson Family YMCA, 301 Sentara Circle, Williamsburg. Call 757-253-7595. He is also a group facilitator for the "Caring for You, Caring for Me" program at Riverside's The Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health. Call Christine Jensen at 757-220-4751 for details.