Women often bear the burdens of Alzheimer's

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SARASOTA, Fla. - Alzheimer's disease is a disease of age. And because women live longer, this means they are not only at high risk, but may also bear the responsibility of caregiving.

Women live longer; that's a fact. And because of the demographics here on the Suncoast, we are greatly affected by Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Many of us will have first-hand experience, be it a caregiver or perhaps both.

Suncoast resident Jean Corn lost at least two aunts, a grandmother and her mother to the disease. “I don’t know genetically or physically or mentally why, but women have a lot to do.”

She compares it to RAM on a computer. “I know that Alzheimer's has to do with memory and storing a lot of memory, and perhaps women just run out of space.”

New reports find women more than age 65 are twice as likely to develop Alzheimers as their risk of breast cancer, and one in six women are at risk of developing Alzheimers in their life compared with one in 11 men of the same age.

“Their life expectancy is longer than men's, and so they are going to need a disproportionate amount of care as a result of that,” says Michael Fitzgerald, director for behavioural health at Doctor’s Hospital of Sarasota.

Because Alzheimers is a disease of age, this means women will likely contract a very debilatating disease, says Fitzgerald. They will have to be treated and cared for in environments that are going to be very costly, expensive, and have a huge toll on society's overall cost.”

But nothing he says compares it to the toll it takes on the caregivers who are disproportionately women. “They also experience a lot of emotional problems as a result of that, they disproportionately experience depression, anxiety and grief and loss,” says Fitzgerald.

Corn knows the challenges well; she was her deceased mother’s caregiver. “Two of the dogs got into a fight, and not having any concept of reality or danger, she walks out and right into the middle of it.”

There were other less dangerous signs of the disease, like finding her mom getting ice cream. “It was ice cream, but the bowl she was using was a used cat food can, and I'm like ‘Mom, this is a cat food can; it's not a bowl’, and she didn't see that.”

Although devastating for Corn, she says there are also fond memories. “She came out on the porch and she was dressed in her birthday suit, it was so precious. But she didn’t realize that you can’t just come out without any clothes on. And she put her finger in the air and she was dancing in circles and she was having the best time, and I had to laugh.”

Caregivers with difficulty caring for a loved one can reach out to services in the community, including The Alzheimers Foundation for support, education and training. For more information go to www.alz.com.