Wednesday Wake-Up Call!

The Financial Burden of Alzheimer's

You know when you make that decision to [adopt a dog/buy a specific car/only wear cowgirl boots/work in the aging field], and then everywhere you look, all you see is that one specific thing [saucy gals in cowgirl boots, cute dogs or a plethora of that one type of car/senior related issues]I swear it’s a phenomenon (or just the result of paying attention to something you never noticed before. whatever).

Case in point: My professional life has officially melded into my social life. With friends sending me great senior related stories, random in-depth discussions on senior housing at birthday potlucks (I swear I didn’t bring it up!), front page stories about aging with HIV, and monthly visits to seniors living in assisted living facilities. Hence this blog – stuff just kept coming at me from everywhere and I needed a place to share the great stories sent my way, as well as a soapbox about what it means to be aging in America.

Another case in point: I woke up this morning to a great (and heartbreaking) story focused on one aspect of aging, the family cost of Alzheimer’s. Our local NPR affiliate, KALW, hosted THIS short piece, “Big Financial Costs are Part of Alzheimer’s Toll on Families” which includes a report and new data on the financial burden families and friends deal with when caring for someone with dementia. What I found most thought provoking about the article was how young the man interviewed was when diagnosed with dementia – most people assume that dementia is an older senior issue and the additional financial challenges can be devastating.

“Paul Hornback was a senior engineer and analyst for the US Army when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years ago*. He was just 55. ‘I was kind of at the height of my career and then this dreadful diagnosis came and it just wiped out every plan I had for my career.’ He says.”


Courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association

Here’s the (grossly generalized) impact in a nutshell: Once the disease impacted his daily life, Paul was forced to take early retirement, resulting in a much diminished take-home for the rest of his life. Additionally, based on studies that point to increased longevity among seniors and people with Alzheimer’s, Paul will live longer then the prior generations and will most likely require a greater degree of care as he ages. Add to those increased years, the 10-15 years as a result from being so young when diagnosed. Since a dementia care diagnosis by itself is not covered by Medi-Cal, that leaves the caregiving to his family (most likely wife, thereby limiting her capacity to bring in income) and ultimately a long-term care facility (paid for by the family or, if he was lucky to take out a long-term care insurance plan years prior, partially by his insurance plan). Now, let’s assume the couple has debts, a mortgage, their kids’ college loans, credit cards, etc. (you know, normal things) and add that burden to the bills and the decreased family earnings.

You know what we have? One very typical example of a situation that is going to be repeated over and over again as the Boomer generation moves into retirement. There’s an increased awareness with City, County and Federal agencies, nonprofits serving seniors, and long-term care providers about this looming issue but outside of the agencies whose missions include a focus on seniors, it seems to be an invisible issue. In fact, this interview noted that most American’s just assume Medicaid (or MediCal here in California) will cover these costs, which is not true. In fact, it typically falls to families to cover the costs, of which can range from $3,000 to 15,000 a month in support. Read those cost ranges again because no one ever ever expects them to be that much A MONTH. And let’s be clear, the $3,000 assisted living facilities are sh*t holes. I visit them regularly and they are expensive, disgusting and depressing places to spend your last days. Real life comparison – the bog of eternal stench from The Labyrinth, HERE.

So, there you have it, served hot on your lap this Wednesday morning: one of the biggest financial disasters that it is guaranteed to squash 1 out of 9 unsuspecting American’s (aged 65yrs and older). Call it a Wednesday wake-up call.


*AUTHOR’S NOTE: Technically you can only diagnose Alzheimer’s with certainty after a person has died, with an autopsy that examines the brain tissue.  When articles, doctors, advocates, or the general public say someone has “Alzheimer’s”, they usually mean one of two things: that the person is exhibiting common traits associated with Alzheimer’s and/or the person has some other form of dementia. Dementia is classified in the DSM (used by physicians and social workers) as a major neurocognitive disorder, which is actually a large category and includes Alzheimer’s disease.

See more about Alzheimer’s HERE.

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