Startling Number of Alzheimer’s Caregivers Die Before Loved Ones

By on July 19, 2015
A Silent Killer

Sherry Lynn Harris, the author of the recently published book “Adapting to Alzheimer’s: Support for When Your Parent Becomes Your Child,” counts herself to be among the lucky ones. She provided non-stop care for her Alzheimer’s stricken mom for 18 years and managed to survive the ordeal.

Harris barely held on at times; however, others who have helped loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and have had their lives turned upset down, are not so fortunate. Sometimes they die before the person they are taking care of. 

About 41% of the caregivers don’t make it, according to a Stanford University study.  

To prevent further tragedies from occurring is the reason Harris decided to write her book, which recaps what worked best for her when she helped her mother − and might seem controversial and unorthodox on first glance.

Harris shares numerous invaluable proven tips about a wide range of topics that will help caregivers accept their temporary situation and live to talk about it.

Readers can easily relate to her teachings because the book is written in a non-technical, down-to-earth style that touches on subjects never before addressed in previous books.

Educational and inspiring from cover to cover, the book is based on Harris’ extensive research and her own experiences spanning the diagnosis to death of her mom. She provides both common sense and unusual coping strategies to deal with the various challenges that occur with Alzheimer’s disease – such as ways to calm, to distract and to help prevent loved ones from wandering, as well as tips on how to create joy together, sharing music and play. In addition, she discusses the need for simplifying and respite and how taking time out for visualization and spending time in nature can support the caregiver by lifting their spirits.

“Beautifully written. Tremendously practical. A must-read for anyone caring for a loved one with dementia.” said Andrea Gallagher, president of Senior Concerns and co-author of “Live Smart after Fifty.”

Harris’ book, as well as the Alzheimer’s Association’s Longest Day set to take place on June 21 to raise funds and awareness about the disease, is a reminder that taking care of someone with the disease is a sunrise to sunset proposition and that the toll that it takes can be immense.

The Stanford University study reports that 41% of Alzheimer’s disease caregivers die from stress-related disorders before the patient dies; and that caregivers have a 63% higher mortality rate than non-caregivers.

“Caregiving can kill you if you aren’t careful,” said Harris. “I count my blessings daily that I am still here.”

While these are terrifying statistics, on the positive side, there are many ways to prevent a double tragedy from occurring − the person who is being taken care of and the caregiver.

“My hope is that as caregivers read my book, they will try the methods I found useful in making my life as well as my mom’s easier,” said Harris, who delivers highly acclaimed talks. In addition, she met with congressional leaders in Washington in March to ask for more research funding. “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

In her book, Harris also discusses how making a conscious choice to be a caregiver is instrumental in one’s ability to handle the challenges.

“There are many factors that go into building dangerous levels of stress, but scientific studies indicate that feelings of being burdened are the strongest predictor of caregiver anxiety and depression.” 

In the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Report, caregivers were shown to be among the top three most-stressed groups in the country. According to the association, more than 60% of caregivers are at higher risk for depression, illness and accidents than the general population.

Contributing to the stress is the financial toll that caregiving can exact. A National Institute of Health Caregivers Study revealed that 69% of caregivers have experienced adverse impact on their work. Harris was one of those. “I needed to step down from my management position at work in order to lessen the stress and exhaustion I experienced in my caregiving role,” Harris said.

Harris only wishes she would have known then what she knows now when she was taking care of her mom.  

“The pressure became so much that I wanted to end it all because there were so many situations occurring where I had no frame of reference in order to make a decision. I wanted to write this book so that anyone in the position of caregiving for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be supported in helpful ways and they never need to contemplate ending their life.”


For more information about Harris and her book, visit her Web site at The Web site includes a blog and radio interviews she has given across the country. The book is available as an e-book at Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, Google (Android) and Blio (Baker & Taylor) and available in e-book or paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram.

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Startling Number of Alzheimer’s Caregivers Die Before Loved Ones