In addition to the anguish and distress Alzheimer's inflicts with the disease, it also creates an enormous strain on caregivers, families and friends, so much so that oftentimes families are referred to as "invisible patients" or "the second victims of Alzheimer's disease."

Clearly the disease heavily affects the caregiving structure of family and friends in a variety of ways.

For the caregiver, the long, arduous journey with their loved one is exhausting and burdensome. The caregiver is at great risk for a variety of physical conditions, such as cardiovascular problems, lower immunity levels and decreased or interrupted sleep patterns. Slower wound healing and higher levels of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, ulcers and anemia, also have been noted.

Caregivers also experience higher levels of stress in managing the day-to-day care of the person affected with Alzheimer's, and this can lead to diminished emotional well-being. This continual stress can lead to a number of psychological issues, such as depression and anxiety, which should be treated immediately.

Caregivers can manage or reduce stress by combating negative thoughts or participating in favorite activities, exercising and socializing.

The impact of the disease on the caregiver and family is most often increased social isolation. Because caregivers tend to sacrifice participating in things they enjoy and put all their attention into caregiving, feelings of social isolation are experienced. Family and friends experience it as well, in that they feel they are no longer able to "connect" to the affected person.

Financial challenges also can be overwhelming to the family. The costs associated with caregiving are significant and going up. These costs can include physician care, diagnostic testing and assessments, medications and support services, such as in-home care or long-term care. Plus, oftentimes caregivers have to quit their jobs or work part-time, which can greatly affect finances.

From feelings of anger and guilt to getting educated about the disease and sharing that knowledge with family and friends, the caregiver is affected by Alzheimer's disease in various ways throughout the journey. And, because the disease affects each person uniquely, no two caregivers experience the same thing.

Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at advice@alzbr.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.