Back in 1983, when former President Ronald Reagan authorized November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, less than two million Americans were diagnosed with the illness at that time. Now more than 30 years later, this number exceeds 5 million, and it’s currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., the Alzheimer’s Association reports. Moreover, this organization continues, Alzheimer’s does not only affect the person diagnosed. 83 percent of caregivers are unpaid family members or friends, many of whom bear significant physical, emotional and financial impacts.
While there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s, certain medical treatments and pharmaceuticals can slow its progression. As of now, five medications are FDA-approved to treat both the cognitive and behavioral symptoms. Some of these include excess stimulation, impaired memory, verbal skills and judgment, sleep changes, mental health issues and other shifts in executive brain function. Alzheimer’s presents many challenges to the lives of those who experience it firsthand, as well as the loved ones who care for them, but the more you know about the illness, the more empowered you’ll be to confront it.
What Should You Consider if a Loved One Was Recently Diagnosed?
It can be difficult, both for you as a caregiver and for your loved one as the patient, to come to terms with the reality of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Complex emotions often surface in the days, weeks or even months ahead—fear, anger, denial, confusion, grief and depression, to name a few of the common responses. This is an overwhelming time, but access to the right information can make it easier to process the news and move forward with an action plan. Here is a list of next steps from the National Institute of Aging:
- Resources and Hotlines
- Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center: 1-800-438-4380
- Alzheimer’s Association (ALZ): 800-272-3900
- Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA): 866-232-8484
- Local Support Groups and Services
- Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116
- Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Nationwide Database
- Alzheimer’s Association Support Group Chapters
- Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Virtual Support Groups
- Doctors and Specialists
- In addition to a primary care doctor, you can also schedule appointments for your loved one with a neurologist, occupational therapist, neuropsychiatrist or geriatric psychiatrist, and memory disorder specialist
- Lifestyle Routines and Modifications
- Help your loved one manage prescriptions, write down emergency contact numbers and set reminders for appointments.
- Find a home healthcare agency to perform a safety evaluation of your house to ensure it is conducive space to your loved one’s well-being. Alternatively, look into an assisted living facility that can accommodate your loved one and provide all services needed.
- Make sure that both you and your loved one eat nutritious meals, exercise on a regular basis and maintain social connections.
- Get your loved one a medical ID bracelet and enroll in the MedicAlert and Alzheimer’s Association Wandering Support program.
- Legal and Financial Planning
- Organize and update legal documents such as a last will and testament, living will, financial and healthcare powers of attorney, or do not resuscitate order. If you need help with these documents, visit the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys website.
- Calculate how much, on average, you will spend on various long-term facets of Alzheimer’s care such as transportation, housing, dietary requirements, and treatments or medications (more on this below).
How Much Does Alzheimer’s Treatment Cost, and What Does Medicare Cover?
Even with insurance, Alzheimer’s is an expensive illness to treat, so it’s crucial to establish a financial plan at the onset of diagnosis. Treatment and medication costs an average of $50,201 each year for Medicare beneficiaries, according to HealthMarkets. This is three times higher than the annual costs for Medicare beneficiaries without the disease. Medicare will cover many Alzheimer’s-related expenses, however, so below is a rundown of those benefits and the out-of-pocket costs to plan for:
- What Medicare Parts A and B Will Cover
- Annual wellness visits and health risk assessments
- Diagnostic tests such as MRI, PET and CT scans
- Post-diagnosis cognitive assessment and care planning
- Mental health services, counseling and psychiatric evaluations
- Medically necessary rehabilitative and nursing home care
- Caregiver training for family members
- Hospice care if a doctor certifies the condition is terminal
- What Medicare Parts C or D will Cover
- Home healthcare services (Part C)
- Transportation to medical appointments (Part C)
- Home safety adaptations (Part C)
- Some or all prescription medicine costs (Part D)
- What Medicare Will Not Cover
- Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, nutrition supplements, vitamins and herbal remedies
- Long-term and custodial housing or personal care services such as assisted living facilities, adult daycare and nursing homes (unless treatments provided there are medically necessary)
Is Medical Research Close to Finding a Cure—What Strides Are Taking Place?
Clinicians from the Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute at University of Southern California developed a medication which is currently under FDA review. If cleared for safe and effective use, this pharmaceutical could help with Alzheimer’s prevention or early intervention by attacking the buildup of amyloid, a protein deposit on the brain which exacerbates the illness. While this is not a cure, researchers feel that it could further treatment progress and ultimately prevention.