TODAY   |  September 05, 2013

Alzheimer’s burden brought caregiver triple tragedy

NBC’s Maria Shriver reports on the high emotional and financial cost of Alzheimer’s care. She speaks to Jim Crabtree, an overburdened caretaker to his wife suffering from Alzheimer’s and his elderly parents whose story met an extreme end.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> on our special series "the age of alzheimer 's," we've been examining the toll alzheimer 's disease takes on health care budgets, on the more than 5 million people now living with the illness, and on the family members who take care of them. nbc's special anchor maria shriver is here with a care giver story you will not soon forget. maria, good to see you.

>> thank you, willie. according to a recent report from the alzheimer 's association, the number of caregivers in the u.s. is far larger than previously believed. it's now estimated that at least 15 million americans are caring for someone with alzheimer 's or some kind of different form of dementia. with jim crabtree as one of those overburdened caregivers, he feels compelled to tell his amazing story.

>> my whole family was wiped out by alzheimer 's disease, in a most unusual way.

>> one call came from the neighbor, one inside the house.

>> jim crabtree was at work this past may when he heard a news report about a shooting near his parents' home.

>> my father shot my mother and then he shot my wife and then he shot himself . it sounds like a horrible, violent end. but in actuality, it was a euthanasia that my father did. it was a great gift that my father was able to give to me. and he ended all my alzheimer 's and elder care issues at once.

>> six years ago, jim crabtree 's wife, rita , was diagnosed with alzheimer 's at the age of 57. and jim 's world was shattered.

>> near the end, rita was just a shell. the person i married was gone.

>> jim , a former nurse, now working in disaster preparedness , struggles to cover the high cost of his wife's care.

>> i was looking at ten years of care at like six grand a month. who has the money to do that?

>> the price tag for caring for alzheimer 's patients in america is $200 billion a year. that doesn't include the personal cost to families.

>> there are over 15 million caregivers around the country working every day, unpaid care-giving hours they're contributing to their loved ones . it is an incredibly stressful situation. jim 's parents, in their 80s, did what they could to help care for rita .

>> she had no idea how to shower herself.

>> every day before going to work, jim washed and dressed his wife. then drove her to his parents' home nearby. but his dad was beginning to struggle with dementia himself, and his mom suffered from continuous, chronic joint pain from severe arthritis.

>> welcome, gang. thanks for coming back.

>> so jim turned to an alzheimer 's support group , and its leader, patty schaub.

>> in the support group , we're not critical of each other. there is no judgment made. and jim was willing to do that.

>> in the almost 19, 20 years you've been involved in alzheimer 's support groups , have you ever heard a story like jim 's?

>> never have, never want to. don't want to hear anything like that again.

>> no anger at your dad?

>> no. no. no real anger at my dad at all. and it's going to sound very strange as people hear this, but they were all three ready to go. and i was at peace with -- their time was up. their time was ready to go. i'm remembering mom and dad as young, youthful people.

>> do you still need an alzheimer 's support group ?

>> because my caregiving days are over, i don't need that kind of information anymore. but i do still stay involved to share my knowledge. i still want to stay involved to help people understand. and to let people know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel . people don't say, i survived alzheimer 's. no. we're the survivors. we're the ones. i survived the caregiving.

>> what happened to jim is certainly an extreme example, but it does demonstrate the stress and strain millions of caregivers face every day. and, by the way, family and friends are providing 17 billion hours of unpaid care every year. so it's huge, willie.

>> it's huge, and it's heartbreaking for a family. but the family also has a job to do every day. you are uniquely qualified to talk about this, given the experience you had with your father. what was it like for you?

>> my dad had alzheimer 's. he died of alzheimer 's. and we are the survivors. i have four brothers. and we all really alternated between taking care of him. we had different roles. and the best advice i would give to adult children who find themselves in that situation is to get together as a group, figure out who is in close proximity, who can do what. but everybody needs to step in.

>> all right. it's a great series, and we look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning. thanks, maria.