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Holiday stress amplified for Alzheimer's caregivers

By Ben Wolford, Sun Sentinel

6:59 p.m. EST, November 25, 2012

Arnold Thaler was a corporate executive known for solving problems and jetting to the Far East on business. He was the best man in his son's wedding, and his wife planned to travel with him in their golden years.

Then Alzheimer's disease, a neurological condition with no cure and no survivors, took hold of Thaler, 74, and added a new, unexpected strain on his family.

"Today he is someone who needs full-time, 24/7 care," said his son, Scott Thaler, 43, a Fort Lauderdale advertising executive. "He doesn't have the ability to communicate with any of us anymore."

The disease's tolls are crushing to its victims but also devastate the people who love them, the children- and spouses-turned-caregivers, many of whom will mark the holidays this year under the pall of emotional and financial stress.

More than 59,000 people in Palm Beach County and 53,000 in Broward are living with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association Southeast Florida Chapter.

Meanwhile, nearly 1 million Floridians are caregivers to an Alzheimer's patient, most of whom report high levels of stress and consequent health complications, the national Alzheimer's Association said in its annual report.

"South Florida is ground zero for Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Mark Brody, a Delray Beach neurologist at Brain Matters Research, which undertakes clinical trials for medicine companies.

As patients progress through the disease, they steadily lose brain function. Their memories flicker and motor skills slip. In later stages, victims lose their speech and then the capacity for basic personal care.

Close family members become strangers and, eventually, unpaid home aides. In Florida, caregivers provide $13.8 billion in uncompensated care, and nationally about one in 10 are forced to stop working, the Alzheimer's Association reported.

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