A new study shows americans are living longer, with fewer deaths from cancer and heart disease, but more chronic illnesses. often the caretakers are the patients' own daughters, sons, wives, husbands or siblings -- 42-million caregivers in all. and baby boomers, the so-called sandwich generation, are doing double duty for parents and children. it is a 24/7 job that can lead to chronic stress.
NBC's Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Nancy Snyderman is here with a look into the lives of caregivers, their families, and some ways to make things easier.
Before dawn... 48 year old single dad Troy Prater is the first one awake in his Philadelphia home...
...making breakfast and checking homework for his teenage triplets.
He drops them off at school...
..... then goes BACK home to help his mother Ella....who is suffering with Alzheimer's disease.
Troy: "i'm running on adrenaline." i've lost quite a few pounds."
For millions of caregivers like Troy, simple survival means days and nights of little sleep and LOTS of worry.
Troy: "i take better care of everyone else than i do my own self."
Mounting evidence shows this type of 'round the clock caregiving can cause very real physical AND psychological strain.
Melissa Livney, Psychologist: "people who are more distressed tend to be at a greater risk for developing cognitive impairment themselves, or putting themselves at greater risk for cardiovascular problems."
Psychologist Melissa Livney counsels caregivers like Betsy Ulmer, whose husband George has Alzheimer's.
The couple married 46 years ago, and Betsy says staying active WITH him helps keep HER healthy.
Faith, she says, is also a critical coping mechanism.
Betsy Ulmer: "we exercise, we have friends, we go out together. i also do devotions each day. i really believe that it's not just a physical life but a spiritual life."
But experts emphasize the importance of time ALONE for caregivers.. of stepping away when possible...attending support meetings like this one at the Alzheimer's Association, and putting their health FIRST to avoid problems later.
Dr. Maria Carrillo, Alzheimer's Association: "it can get to the point where they've neglected for years their own health, doctors office visits, they may not know if they have diabetes, they may not know if they're experiencing high cholesterol or other issues that could be putting them at risk."
there's no question that the stress of caring for an ill family member can actually cause illness.
you can reduce the risk by reaching out for help -- and accepting it.
be specific when people ask how they can help: suggest they bring dinner once a week or watch your loved one so you can get some time alone.
join an online support group for those days when you really can't get away.
and stick to your routines, like exercise and mealtimes, as much as possible to stay healthy.