Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Most Expensive Disease

Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America. Our country faces an impending financial crisis. One out of every five dollars Medicare spends is for a person with dementia. This care amounted to $150 billion in Medicare and Medicaid expense last year.

The cost to Medicare for persons with dementia is three times higher than for seniors without the disease. The emotional impact on caregivers contributes to health issues for them. Caregivers pay an additional $9.7 billion for their own health care.

Dementia is costly to families. It strips away at the family finances. This is a disease fraught with unexpected expenses ranging from adult personal care products to hiring a sitter. Whether caring for a loved one at home or placing them into long-term care, families are hit emotionally and financially on a regular basis. It becomes a way of life.

When facing the dementia financial crisis, families sometimes sell possessions they would have never considered under normal circumstances. Jim and I sold our lake property. It had once been our intention to retire there, but retirement was never to be for us.

Recently, I read an article about Leon Lederman, 92, that really made me pause. Lederman, along with two other scientists, received the 1988 Nobel Prize for discovering a subatomic particle. He said it was just collecting dust. His wife mentioned a more practical reason for the sale. They faced financial uncertainty when Lederman was diagnosed with dementia, and the $756,000 they received for the pure gold medal made them more financially secure.

A gold medal doesn’t hold the sentimental value of a home. A story that made headlines in May of this year was about a former Japanese prisoner of war who needed 24-hour care after being diagnosed with dementia. This story could have taken place in the USA, and probably has. This particular article took place in Cornwall and affected ninety-four-year-old Charles Atkins. His family said the government was “throwing him on the scrapheap.”  The dilemma for the family was that unless he sold his home, his two daughters were responsible for his expensive care.

Can’t happen here, you say? Twenty-eight states have filial responsibility laws where adult children can be forced to provide necessities for their indigent parents, including long-term care. Most states don’t enforce these laws, yet. As the crunch becomes tighter for state assistance, they may begin to close their own financial gap. In most states, this involves civil court action, but twelve states impose criminal penalties and three states allow both civil and criminal.

Of course, if you are like me, you want the best care for your parents. Unfortunately, the enormous cost of nursing home care could force middle-class Americans into bankruptcy in a hurry. It’s a sticky situation, and if selling the family home gets you and Uncle Sam off the hook, it may seem the lesser evil.

Yes, Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America, and it looks like it is only going to become five times more costly by 2050. This just puts the exclamation point behind the statement, “End Alzheimer’s now!” Without a cure for Alzheimer’s, the government and families are going to be faced with the unfaceable, the impossible, the unimaginable.

There is “Hope for Alzheimer’s.” Science is making great strides toward finding an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s and ultimately a cure. We need to keep pestering our legislators! If each of us helps in the fight to end Alzheimer’s through awareness, persistence, and downright refusing to give up, we can make a difference.  A big, life-changing difference. 

Copyright © June 2015 by L.S. Fisher

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