Nightly News   |  December 11, 2012

Caregivers struggle with chronic stress

Americans are living longer than ever before, which means baby boomers are doing double duty caring for both parents and children. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>>> a new study shows americans are living longer with fewer deaths from cancer and heart disease , but more people are coping with chronic illnesses.s. taking care of them? often their own family members, in a lot of cases. 42 million caregivers in all. a lot of those same folks have their own children to look after. we have been partnering with aarp to look at some ways to make life easier for these families. we get our report tonight from our chief medical correspondent, dr. nancy snyderman .

>> reporter: before dawn, 48-year-old single dad trey prader is the first one awake in his philadelphia home.

>> want orange juice ?

>> reporter: making breakfast and checking homework for his teenage triplets.

>> typical day is organized chaos.

>> reporter: he drops them off at school, then goes back home.

>> where's your medicine?

>> reporter: to help his mother, ella, who is suffering with alzheimer's disease.

>> i'm running on adrenaline. i have lost quite a few pounds.

>> reporter: for millions of caregivers like trey, it means days and nights of little sleep and lots of worry.

>> i take better care of everyone else than i do my own self.

>> reporter: mounting evidence shows this type of 'round-the-clock caregiving can cause very real physical and psychological strain.

>> people who are more distressed tend to be at greater risk for developing cognitive impairment themselves, putting themselves at greater risk for cardiovascular problems. i would be interested in hearing --

>> reporter: psychologist melissa livny counsels people like betsy, whose husband, george, has alzheimer's.

>> what did you think of me when you first met me?

>> i liked you and i took you and -- my honey.

>> reporter: the couple married 46 years ago and betsy says staying active with him helps keep her healthy.

>> we are together 24/7.

>> reporter: faith, she says is also a critical coping mechanism .

>> i do devotions each day. i really believe that it's not just a physical life but a spiritual life.

>> i feel overwhelmed.

>> reporter: experts emphasize the importance of time alone for caregivers, of stepping away when possible, attending support meetings and putting their health first to avoid problems later.

>> can get to the point where they have neglected for years their own health, doctor's office visits, they may not know if they have diabetes. may not know this if they are experiencing high cholesterol or any other issues that can put them at risk.

>> reporter: reach out for help, if necessary, and be specific. ask people, can you help my mom with dinner? can you drive my mother to the doctor? and then when people offer their help, accept it. brian?

>> good advice, nancy, as always. thank you.

>>> we wanted to let you know, we have much more on our website, including the resources of aarp. you can find it all at nbcnightlynews.com.