How to Control the Costs of a Parent with Dementia


The cost to care for a family member suffering from dementia is increasing at a rapid rate, putting adult children in a financially-tough position.

According to The New England Journal of Medicine, dementia-related health-care costs were $109 billion in 2010-- surpassing the direct health-care costs for heart disease and cancer. By 2040, the journal estimates the price tag for the disease will more than double as the population continues to age.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports the number of people 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to increase 40% to 7.1 million by 2025. Without medical advancements, that number is projected to rise to 13.8 million people by 2050 and could reach as high as 16 million.

Unlike other diseases that have treatments and cures, dementia and Alzheimer’s are still untreatable, making them more of a financial and emotional burden on patients and families.

“It’s not something you can be put in a hospital to get better,” says Barbara McCann, chief information officer at Interim HealthCare. “Mom is wandering or lost her memory are not things Medicare will cover.”

According to Ruth Drew, director of family and information services at the Alzheimer's Association, taking care of someone with dementia become financially burdensome because care is so challenging.

For example, Drew says people with Alzheimer’s can experience a loss in judgment, orientation and the ability to understand and communicate. What’s more, the average a person suffering with Alzheimer’s will spend more years in the “severe stage” of the disease than in any other stage. Much of that time, she says, will be spent in a nursing home. “Nursing home admission by the age of 80 is expected for 75% of people with Alzheimer’s compared with only 4% of the general population.”

Nursing home costs are hefty, and if around-the-clock is needed, the cost can be overwhelming since many people are forced to pay for the care out of pocket. According to Drew, nursing home care averages $81,030 to $95,652 a year, while assisted living averages $42,600 per year. Adult day services average $70 a day. If around the clock care is needed at home, that daily rate can easily double.

When it comes to paying for the care, patients and adult children have a few options. Long-term care insurance can help cover the cost, but if it’s not already purchased, it might be hard to secure and premiums will be high.

Medicare will cover certain services like Meals on Wheels, but the benefits will fall short of full coverage. “Medicare can pay for medical expenses, but does not pay for long-term care. Medicaid and veterans benefits can help pay for long-term care those who qualify,” says Drew. “Some resources vary from state to state, so it is important to get accurate information targeted to your situation.”

Tapping a network of family, friends, neighbors, faith communities and volunteer groups, is another way to defray some of the costs. “The best thing a family can do is start planning early. The sooner they start, the more options they will have,” says Drew.

The Alzheimer’s Association can connect people with low-cost or free community support services, she adds, noting that many community organizations provide low-cost or free services including respite care, support groups, transportation and home delivered meals.

Good prevention techniques can help reduce long-term care costs of dementia. Many people will dismiss early signs and symptoms and writing them off to old age. But McCann says the biggest mistake people can make is not following through when those signs first start. “Take the parent and all their medication to the doctor and say, ‘here’s what I’ve been observing’,” says McCann. “You need to know if there is a problem.”

It’s also important to start planning when the person is in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. You don’t want to wait until the disease is severe to come up with a plan for care. “When families talk about things early they avoid crises and reduce the fear of the unknown,” says Drew.