November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.
It’s hard to find anyone who isn’t aware of—and scared of—dementia**. Or who hasn’t had a family member or friend stricken by it.
Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease that damages not only the individual, but family and friends, as well, especially the primary care giver—most often the spouse.
Adding insult to injury is the incredible cost of getting help. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine confirms what many already know—Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia cost families way more than almost any other disease.
Why? Cancer is one of the most expensive diseases with lots of diagnostic tests, surgeries and chemotherapies. But those costs are generally covered by insurance.
Dementia patients, on the other hand, just need round-the-clock care, either at home or in a memory care facility. Those costs are generally not covered by insurance or Medicare.
On average, the out-of-pocket cost for a patient with dementia was $61,522 — more than 80 percent higher than the cost for someone with heart disease or cancer. The reason is that dementia patients need caregivers to watch them, help with basic activities like eating, dressing and bathing, and provide constant supervision to make sure they do not wander off or harm themselves.
My father, who passed away last summer, was in a memory care facility for two months before he died. The cost? Over $10,000 a month, not including any of the little extras that get added on, such as laundry service, adult diapers and other supplies, meals for family members, etc.
How many families can really afford that for any length of time?
For many families, the cost of caring for a dementia patient often “consumed almost their entire household wealth,” said Dr. Amy S. Kelley, a geriatrician at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York and the lead author of the paper.
“It’s stunning that people who start out with the least end up with even less,” said Dr. Kenneth Covinsky, a geriatrician at the University of California in San Francisco. “It’s scary. And they haven’t even counted some of the costs, like the daughter who gave up time from work and is losing part of her retirement and her children’s college fund.”
Dr. Diane E. Meier, a professor of geriatrics and palliative care at Mount Sinai Hospital, said most families are unprepared for the financial burden of dementia, assuming Medicare will pick up most costs.
“What patients and their families don’t realize is that they are on their own,” Dr. Meier said.
Unfortunately, these is no effective drug to treat Alzheimer’s, and the most commonly used drugs, Aricept and Namenda, are expensive. Most doctors think these drugs are worthwhile, however, because they might delay a patient going into an even more expensive memory care facility for a few months or a year.
Related post: Don’t buy supplements to prevent Alzheimer’s
We don’t really know what causes Alzheimer’s, either, but experts believe many cases can be prevented by a healthy lifestyle. The good news is that these tips can prevent other types of disease, as well.
High blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease are all risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
- Get some exercise every day.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and good fats.
- Don’t smoke!
Related post: The DASH Diet – Boring but it works
Keeping your brain fit is important, too. A lower education and social isolation are also risk factors.
- Maintain a network of friends and social activities.
- Keep learning new things—read books, learn a language, play an instrument, learn to dance (dancing and music are especially good because of the eye-hand coordination).
- Play games! I love the bars and coffee houses that have libraries of games and puzzles. You can socialize and play games 😀
**(It’s common to refer to all forms of dementia as Alzheimer’s, but Alzheimer’s is actually a specific form of dementia. It can only be diagnosed with certainty after death, with an autopsy. Treatment for most dementias, including Alzheimer’s, are the same.)