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Defy Dementia Episode 11: Take Good Care – Brain Health for Caregivers

This is the second episode of our two-part special on stress and caregiving. With one in two Canadians expected to become caregivers in their lifetime, Defy Dementia unpacks the significant effects of caregiving on brain health. First, Dr. Ho Yu (University of Toronto) discusses the various factors that increase caregivers’ dementia risk. Then, Katie Brandt shares her journey as a caregiver for her husband and father, both diagnosed with dementia when she was just 29. Drawing from her experience, Katie offers invaluable advice for caregivers both new and seasoned. Whether you are currently a caregiver or may become one in the future, don’t miss this new episode for critical insights and guidance to help defy dementia.


Key takeaways

  • Being a caregiver can have a significant impact on your brain health. Caregivers of people living with dementia are up to six times more likely to develop dementia themselves.
  • As a caregiver, you are important too, so look after yourself. Be aware of your dementia risk factors like poor sleep or social isolation.
  • Caregiving should be a team effort. You shouldn’t take on all the responsibility. 
  • You may be a caregiver someday. Think and talk about being a caregiver even before a diagnosis, because afterwards it may be harder to discuss difficult issues.

Key highlights

Jay: There's good evidence that caregivers – those of us who look after family and friends living with dementia or other chronic diseases – face a hugely elevated risk of developing dementia themselves.

Allison: According to the Canadian Center for Caregiving Excellence, one in four Canadians currently identifies as a caregiver, and one in two will be caregivers at some point in their lives.

Ho: I think often a care partner does not see themselves as being the vulnerable person. There is a more pressing need. So, they often forget that their own needs need to be looked after. Stress, isolation, their own diets are really critical in helping them also live healthy.

Katie: [Caregivers] think if they sacrifice themselves, it will make the disease easier for their loved one. But it doesn't really. Pulling in more people to help you care for your loved one allows you to do the precious thing that only you can do, which is to hold your loved one's hand, to reminisce with them, to love them the way an adult child, a spouse, a friend can.



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Learn more about our guests

Dr. Ho Yu is a neurobiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Toronto. A cell biologist by training, his lab work “is centered around why garbage builds up in brain cells.” Specifically, he studies the loss of protein clearance mechanisms in aging and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. His current research, supported by National Institutes of Health funding, is focused on risk factors for dementia, especially for Asian Canadians. As such, he is one of the researchers taking part in the Asian Cohort for Alzheimer’s Disease (ACAD) study, which is a North America-wide study that aims to better understand the risk factors associated with developing or having AD based on genetic and non-genetic factors, such as diet, lifestyle, and blood biomarkers, among older persons of Asian descent. Dr. Yu is also passionate about outreach and dementia education, speaking to audiences of all ages, and especially to Asian and Chinese audiences, about potential dementia risk factors and how we can moderate them.
Katie Brandt became a caregiver at the age of 29 during a series of traumatic events in her family. She became involved in dementia and caregiver support and eventually found a new career as a public speaker, educator, and advocate in the healthcare and research sectors. Katie is the Director of Caregiver Support Services and Public Relations for the Massachusetts General Hospital Frontotemporal Disorders Unit where she provides leadership for research, education, and community events. A dementia care expert, Katie has fifteen years of experience as a family caregiver and holds certifications as a support group facilitator, a Dementia Care Manager in Massachusetts, and as a trainer in Powerful Tools for Caregiving, Habilitation Therapy, and the DICE Approach for Dementia Care. Katie is the Founder and CEO of Katie Brandt Advocacy, LLC, a consultancy that provides a platform for her lived experience presentations. Each aspect of Katie’s work aims to illuminate the authentic voice of those who have lived alongside dementia.