Dementia patient care costs exceed those for other diseases, like cardiovascular problems and cancer, especially in the final stages, a new study has shown.
The research, published on October 26 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was conducted by a team of experts at the Icahn School of Medicine, at Mount Sinai.
Data included in the analysis was part of the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Experts reviewed records pertaining to 1,702 individuals, aged 70 and older, who had been on the Medicare national health insurance program, and had passed away between 2005 and 2010.
Since dementia isn’t usually included as a cause of death on the person’s death certificate, researchers have had to make inferences based on each subject’s probability of having been affected by this degenerative brain disease.
According to estimations, in the final 5 years of life, the total costs associated with caring for a patient suffering from dementia amount to $287,038.
These expenses are staggering in comparison with other highly publicized health issues, which require surgical procedures, hospitalization and expensive medicine.
For example, treatment costs related to heart disease in the final years are estimated at $175,136, while medical care for cancer patients in the last 5 years of life totals $173,383.
The financial strain associated with dementia surpasses by a wide margin even the amount of spending required for treating other conditions, which has been assessed at around $197,286.
Moreover, the average out-of-pocket expenses covered by families with a dementia patient reach $61,522 in those final years, whereas for households without dementia the costs are at approximately $34,068, thus around 80% lower.
The burden is even more significant among patients who are African-American or from other racial minorities, who are unmarried or widowed females, or who are without high school education.
However, the results aren’t entirely surprising given the fact that over 5 million Americans are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia.
Moreover, the national health insurance program doesn’t actually pay for a wide variety of the specialized services required for treating such patients.
For example, individuals who suffer from dementia are in need of daily care including bathing, feeding and supervision.
Medicare, which typically provides health insurance for people who are 65 or older, usually pays for office visits, surgery and hospitalization, and doesn’t cover long-term in-home care, or nursing home stays.
In comparison, other chronic disorders don’t place such financial burden on individuals, and are covered to a larger extent by insurance.
Even more worryingly, experts believe that these economic pressures will increase, as the American population grows old, and fewer children are born, who could eventually help support their aging parents.
“The cost estimates of this paper are probably going to worsen because of the lower availability of informal care over time, and an increasing number of people of advanced age”, explained Michael D. Hurd, economist and director of the RAND Center for the Study of Aging.
There are limitations regarding this research however, such as the fact that study authors have had to estimate the likelihood of the subjects having had dementia, and this leaves room for errors.
In addition, the research doesn’t include the income loss experienced by family members while caring for dementia patients, and may not accurately quantify the percentage of insurance payments.
Nevertheless, the findings still emphasize how significant end-of-life costs can be for those affected by Alzheimer’s and other irreversible brain disorders.
The financial drain actually reverberates across generations, and current treatment needs are provided for with great difficulty, making it almost impossible to actually plan resources for future use as well.
Potential solutions in order to diminish this burden might be opting for long-term care insurance, or providing financial aid to family members who act as dementia caregivers.
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