Taking Care of Alzheimer's: the Burden on Women

The Shriver Report on Alzheimer's looks at how caretaking takes a toll on women.

ByABC News
October 13, 2010, 10:56 AM

Oct. 19, 2010— -- Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease can be a 24/7 job, taking an emotional, financial and even physical toll on caretakers, especially if they're women, according to the Shriver Report on Alzheimer's.

The report, released Oct. 15, details the special burden women face as caretakers. The majority of Alzheimer's patients and caretakers are women, and more than half of them report serious emotional and physical stress that results from taking on the care of their ailing loved ones.

"All my time is taking care of my mother. Your whole life is devoted to somebody else, as if you had a little baby," says Ana Marie Ortega, 63, who has been caring for her 89-year-old mother Teodora Ortega for the past decade since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

As with many caretakers, live-in nurses or nursing homes were not an option for Ortega because of financial and personal reasons, leaving the Sacramento, Calif., native to care for her ailing mother on her own.

"The nursing home was not what I wanted for mom," she says. "My mother practically raised my daughter so I could get a college education. She worked so hard all her life. You have to do the moral thing. Life doesn't repeat itself. She might be gone within a year or two and I don't want any regrets."

That choice has meant a lot of sacrifice for Ortega: She is on leave from her job at the governor's office so she can care for her mother, leaving tight finances and little time to herself.

"It's an emotional, mental, physical struggle," she says. "She can get very angry and mean when the medication is wearing off and she wasn't that way before. It's a cruel disease; it robs the person of their life and the people around them. This time it happens to be me because I chose to take care of mom."