The care of those who have dementia in the last five years of life is more costly than that of other chronic conditions such as heart disease or even cancer, according to research recently completed by the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Although this comes as little surprise to the families and caregivers to those with dementia, the study quantifies scientifically what has long been expected to be fact.

The research: The burden of Health Care costs for patients in the last 5 years of life

The NIA study examined Medicare beneficiaries age 70 and older who died between 2005 and 2010, breaking the group into four sub-groups by diagnosis for dementia, heart disease, cancer and other causes.

In each subgroup, the total costs for the care of those with dementia were higher than any of the other diagnoses:

  • Dementia: Approximately $287,000
  • Heart Disease: Approximately $175,000
  • Cancer: Approximately $173,500
  • Other Causes: Approximately $197, 500

Perhaps most interesting of all was that Medicare expenses for all groups were approximately the same; it was the out-of-pocket expenses of caring for someone with dementia that were significantly higher than for the other sub-groups – a little more than $61,500 for those with dementia compared to $34,000 for those without dementia.

The real-life implications of the cost of dementia care

Consider that 75 million Baby Boomers will become age 65 or older in the next 17 years, increasing the number of people in the US in that age group to 18 percent by 2030. Beginning at age 65, the risk of developed Alzheimer's disease, just one of the possible dementias, doubles every five years of life, so we can see that dementia care and its costs for both society and the individuals with dementia and their caregivers will continue to grow incrementally.

How will the American health care system weather the coming possibilities? And it won't be the health care system alone that will weather this storm, but the individuals with dementia themselves and those who love and care for them.

How many spouses of dementia patients will find their life savings used up in the out-of-pocket costs for dementia care? Or those individuals who have no savings on which to fall back – will they then require nursing home care so Medicaid can pick up the various costs not covered by Medicare?

What changes might we see in the future for the care of those with dementia? As a society, will we be able to afford the quality of care needed for quality of life in those with dementia? There are perhaps more questions than answers that this research has generated, but armed with this information together we can begin to formulate the necessary answers.

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