Give and take is one way to describe the difficult journey of a caregiver for someone with an untreatable disease like Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia that leave a wake of devastation.

Data estimates there are around 110,000 unpaid family caregivers to people living with Alzheimer’s in New Mexico. Worse, the prevalence of this devastating disease will strike our state with an increase that is among the most severe nationally, according to public health experts, simply because our aging population is rapidly rising; Alzheimer’s and dementia are strongly associated with aging. By consequence, the number of family caregivers will also rise.

The give-and-take notion refers to the selfless sacrifices of a caregiver. They give up their personal time, and in some cases, they eventually give up their career just to provide for the care and support needs of a loved one. Then comes the taking, — little by little — the caregiving takes its toll on their emotional, mental, and physical health, too.

Give and take.

The Alzheimer’s Association, New Mexico Chapter is using data collection to gain actionable insights on the health effects caregivers experience and all of the negative outcomes associated. This data driven approach helps shape and support our public policy requests to state legislators and policymakers on the issue.

The most recent scientific survey conducted by the state Department of Health showed that 34 percent of caregivers reported feeling depressed. Also learned from the same survey is that nearly one-third of dementia caregivers are in the “sandwich generation” — caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia and a child or grandchild at the same time. This data point helps us understand why 10 percent of the surveyed caregivers described experiencing generally poor mental health. This dual role of caregiving has a compounding effect that is most severe.

Earlier in November, which is National Caregivers Month, the chapter, with the help of the New Mexico Aging and Long Term Services Department, hosted a large-scale conference on the issue. The attendance was one of the largest on record.

More and more caregivers are coming out of the shadows and into the light, asking for help against the give-and- take effects. While events like the conference are undoubtedly helpful, more help needs to be available to caregivers.

There is no silver bullet to tackle this growing issue, but we can all agree that our elected leaders and policymakers can do more to help those who are selflessly caring for others. Our chapter is increasing its advocacy to call on our leaders to discuss ideas and solutions on this urgent issue with us. We are looking forward to working with them.

Tommy Hernandez is the public policy director of the Alzheimer’s Association, New Mexico Chapter.

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