04/04/2011 12:07 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2011

Alzheimer's Disease: Avoiding the Biggest Mistake

An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. For every one of them, there are three unpaid caregivers: about 15 million people providing 17 billion hours of unpaid care each year. William Thies, Ph.D. -- the Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the Alzheimer's Assocation -- told me that way too often those caregivers fail to seek appropriate help and are unaware of free or low-cost resources.

Care-related stress can cause poor health that strikes down caregivers just as surely as Alzheimer's devastates its victims. I recently visited Mike and Carol Daly, a wonderful couple in their late sixties. Seven years ago, Carol was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Mike is a former New York City cop, married to Carol for 47 years and still deeply in love with and devoted to his wife. When I first met them almost three years ago, Carol knew she was 65 years old; now she doesn't have a clue. Mike has been pretty much going it alone. He doesn't want to bother other family members or anybody else for that matter. Since I last saw him, he's gained 15 pounds, no longer exercises, and takes medications for sleep and anxiety.

Mike is old school, salt of the earth. He doesn't complain, he doesn't ask "why me?" He also doesn't clearly appreciate the toll the past several years have taken on him. A few hours after my recent visit, he emailed, "Yes, caring for Carol is not easy but it does not stress me out. Yes, I know the day will come when I will not be able to care for Carol by myself. Yes, I will eventually have to seek out help."


Why wait? Getting caretakers to seek help sooner rather than later is a major goal of the Alzheimer's Association. Here is a link to specific advice from that organization:

In the meantime, Mike Daly absolutely blows me away. In this two-minute segment that ran on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, watch the way he gently and lovingly applies her makeup. And -- at the very end -- check out the way he looks at her, all these years later, for better or for worse.