Most of us don’t realize it but we 21st centurions are in the midst of another great depression.

I’m talking about the widespread and insidious depression suffered by the unpaid, untrained and under-equipped caregivers fighting the good fight against the unchecked Alzheimer’s disease.

Although researchers are working feverishly, at present Alzheimer’s is the only disease among the top 10 causes of death in America that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed although there is always hope.

The numbers are great in this great 21st century depression. This year, 16 million family and friends will provide 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care to their loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

National Center on Caregiving studies reveal 35 percent of unpaid family caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s or dementia meet diagnostic criteria for major depression — and it’s not hard to see why.

Recently I was told of a local example.

An elderly mother living with one of her daughters is showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s but refuses to admit she has a problem.

The mother has become the family’s very own Leona Helmsley, causing friction, chaos and stress for the daughter who has her own children and workload to balance.

And no matter what the daughter tells her, 15 minutes later her mother doesn’t remember. 

Consequently, the daughter is now showing signs of clinical depression.

The ghastly truth is that, on average, non-paid Alzheimer’s caregivers give up $15,000 in annual income to partially offset the time demands of caregiving. They also pay more than $5,000 a year out of their own pocket for uncovered care expenses.

Because of these impossible demands on their time and money, nearly half of unpaid caregivers are forced to take an additional job, work more hours, postpone retirement or skip vacation. One third sacrifice their own healthcare needs.

If that’s not enough to kick-start serious depression, I don’t know what is.

“A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight,” writes Elizabeth Wurtzel in Prozac Nation. “But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”

But there is HOPE.

The proposed bipartisan HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act (Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education for Alzheimer’s Act -S.857/H.R. 1559) is designed to help combat caregiver burnout and depression.

Medicare already provides coverage of Alzheimer’s disease diagnostic services. But what’s lacking now, and what HOPE will provide, is time, money and support for professional healthcare providers and family members to support comprehensive care planning.

This will include discussing both the initial diagnosis and future treatment, services and support options leading to improved or maintained quality-of-life for Medicare beneficiaries, their family and caregivers.

If you’re a stressed and depressed caregiver, please take care of yourself.

Then take action. Individual correspondence and calls have tremendous influence on members of congress. Detailing your own story really gets their attention when it comes to advocating for pending legislation such as HOPE.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, HOPE for tomorrow.

Until next time…keep thinking the good thoughts.

— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is the founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her at The opinions expressed are her own.