Understanding the Costs of Dementia

What is dementia? Dementia is a broad term used to describe a general decline in memory or other thinking skills in the elderly. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which is a specific illness that accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Symptoms of dementia may include memory loss, confusion, and disorientation, as well as mood and personality changes. Dementia is often thought of as a normal part of aging, but that is not true. If you observe these symptoms in yourself or in a loved one, please seek medical treatment right away.

What are the costs of dementia to the individual? Dementia is a progressive condition, so the costs to the individual increase over time. As symptoms worsen, the individual will begin to need assistance with daily activities, such as meal preparation, help with grooming and hygiene, and transportation assistance. In early stages the individual may only need help for a few hours per week, or a brief visit per day, but may eventually need around-the-clock care.

If the individual uses an in-home caretaker often charges about $21/hour. Adult day care can run as high as $18,200 per year or more.  When an individual can no longer live alone but is not quite ready for a nursing home, Assisted Living facilities are available but may cost as much as $42,600 per year or more.  When around the clock care is needed, a nursing home can cost an individual up to $90,520 per year, or higher.  To view costs in other states and national average costs of long term care, see the MetLife Survey of Long Term Care Costs, here.

What is the cost to the family? Often, if the individual who is ill has family nearby, they will assist with care. This can be anything from brief visits to help with daily activities, to eventually giving up employment to watch the individual full-time. This can be a great financial burden on the family.

However, often the most devastating cost to the family is emotional strain. If a family is considering the best way to help care for an ill individual, they should also take into account the physical, mental, and emotional stress that come with being a full-time caretaker.

Who can help? Scientists continue to study dementia to search for solutions to this debilitating condition. In the meantime, there are resources that can help individuals and families. Most importantly, they should work closely with doctors to monitor and treat symptoms. Information from your local Department of Aging can help you find valuable resources to ease the burden on your family. (You can visit the North Carolina Aging and Adult Services here.) And, of course, working with a financial planner and Elder Law attorney early in your journey can help protect your assets and give your family peace of mind.

If you or your family are dealing with the effects of dementia, please know that you are not alone. The emotional consequences and financial burden can be intimidating, but there are resources available that can help you through this difficult time.