Monday, March 12, 2012

The High Cost of Alzheimer’s Disease

The latest Alzheimer’s Association Fact Sheet gives hard data about the high cost of living with Alzheimer’s disease. The Fact Sheet begins with the statement:  The graying of America means the bankrupting of America – and Alzheimer’s is a major reason why.

In 2012, caring for Alzheimer’s will cost $200 billion. Medicare and Medicaid take the brunt of these costs. Medicare bears the largest share, $104.5 billion, and Medicaid is in second place with $35.5 billion.

Those who have a loved one with an Alzheimer’s type of dementia know that although the government looks like the biggest loser on paper, families take a harder hit with both emotional and financial tolls.

More than 15 million caregivers provide 17 billion hours worth of unpaid caregiving. The monetary value of this caregiving is $210 billion—the emotional cost cannot be measured.

Alzheimer’s is not just an expensive disease; it is costly. The highest costs are not in dollars, but in broken relationships as families and caregivers adjust to a new reality.

As hard as it is to provide care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, 60 percent of caregivers find emotional stress to be the hardest part of caregivng. A third of caregivers report being depressed. Alzheimer’s caregivers have increased health problems directly related to being a caregiver. Nationally, this translates into an additional $7.8 billion health care costs for the caregiver.

Have you hugged a caregiver today? Better yet, have you offered help, and meant it? I’m not talking about “If there’s anything I can do…” without following up to find out what you really can do to help. I’m referring to watching a loved one for a few hours to relieve the primary caregiver. Family members should work out a schedule so that each member can contribute to the wellbeing of both the caregiver and the person with dementia.

A woman I met a few years ago thought it was totally her dad’s responsibility to look after her mother. After all, he was the one who promised to care for her “in sickness and in health.” She stubbornly refused to help her dad. To be perfectly honest, I felt like shaking her, but instead I encouraged her to take on more responsibility for her mother’s care. She did finally help after her dad was hospitalized from the stress of caring for his wife.

I’ve seen families pull together for the good of the person with Alzheimer’s. It takes more than one person to provide 24-hour-a-day care. I was lucky that Jim’s family, my family, and our family were available and willing to help. I could not possibly have kept Jim home as long as I did without this family support.

Not all families work as a team, some are shattered by arguments over caregiving, or even whether their family member has dementia. Denial is common and it is hard to acknowledge that someone you love could have a disease that could erase memories.
No matter how drastically a person with dementia may change, they can still feel your love. As hard as being a caregiver is, and although it may seem a thankless job at times, your reward comes from knowing that you’ve done your very best. That is something that will stick with you long after your loved one is gone, and you can look back with no regrets.

Copyright © March 2012 by L.S. Fisher
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