What about Alzheimer’s Disease?

In addition to physical needs, LTC may also be required due to cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease or one of the other forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s may be early-stage, with misplaced items and minor memory lapses, middle-stage with confusion and difficulty expressing thoughts, or late-stage with personality changes and wandering. Younger onset (also known as “early onset”) typically occurs before age 65 and can be any of the stages.

A word of caution: two of ten cases are mis-diagnosed. There are no medical tests that definitively show someone is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Rather, symptoms are used to determine its presence. Studies have shown Alzheimer’s appears at earlier ages in men (exhibiting behavioral and motor issues) and later in women (displaying memory issues).

Some studies have shown that nearly 15% of people age 71 and older have dementia. Every 66 seconds another American is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Although the subject of much study, there is no cure at present. The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years over age 65. The duration of suffering can last from a low of four to eight years following diagnosis, to as long as 20 years. Cancer and heart disease are bigger killers, but Alzheimer’s disease is the most expensive. The cost of care can be astronomical.

Anyone who has cared for an Alzheimer’s patient will tell you: “Until you have lived it, you have no idea how it will change your life and that of your family.” The impact of the disease goes way beyond the patient. It starts at the first circle – typically the spouse who will try to deal with the gradually declining patient. The stress, sleepless nights and worry will take a serious toll on the health of the caregiver. The emotional drain and physical strain often will cause the health care costs of the caregiver to soar. The next circle is the rest of the family; the children and siblings. They will try to help. But their own families, jobs, and other obligations will create guilt, anxiety, stress and resentment. The outer circle are the other unpaid and paid caregivers; friends, neighbors, and agency personnel.

Through it all, the patient is increasingly oblivious to the chaos created in his or her wake.

The burden on unpaid caregivers, primarily family members, although not as easily quantified, was nearly $260 billion in 2017. That’s not the cost of drugs or other medical treatments, but rather the care needed just to help Alzheimer’s sufferers get through daily life. The Alzheimer’s Association projects the cost of care (including health care, long-term care and hospice) will reach $1.1 trillion by 2050. This is NOT a subject to be taken lightly, or worse, ignored…until it simply too late.

Nobody is immune. Fame and fortune are no shield. Planning, preparation and family communication are vital.