Now, Where Did I Put My Keys? The Staggering Impact of Dementia

October 15th, 2013 | written by Heidi Dodd

Many of us joke that constantly losing our keys is the first sign of Alzheimer’s.  Well, breathe a sigh of relief.  Just misplacing your keys does not mean you suffer from dementia.  However, displaying several early symptoms of dementia may cause you to re-examine your situation.  Early symptoms of dementia include, but are not limited to: memory loss, difficulty in performing activities of daily living (i.e. bathing, dressing, eating), difficulty with communication and language, disorientation of time and place, changes in personality, or loss of initiative. Many of us know someone, or have a relative, diagnosed with dementia. A costly, heart-breaking and life-altering syndrome, it affects one in 20 people over the age of 65 and one in five over the age of 80.  These staggering statistics present a major economic, financial, and societal impact.

According to a recent study by the RAND Corporation, the cost of caring for those with dementia currently comes in higher than caring for those with heart disease or cancer.  The direct costs of dementia, including the cost of medicine and nursing homes, totaled $109 billion in 2010 compared to $102 billion for heart disease and $77 billion for cancer.  When placing a value on family members caring for loved ones at home, the cost increases to $215 billion a year.  (http://www.rand.org/news/press/2013/04/03.html).

While the tremendous cost to society will likely impact all of us, the significance of costs to individuals diagnosed with dementia and their loved ones grows exponentially.  As evidenced by the RAND study, each individual case of dementia costs between $41,000 and $56,000 a year. In addition to the financial drain on families, dementia increases the stress on the caregiver loved one. In fact, studies show and experts find an increased risk for depression, anxiety, and long-term medical problems, for caregivers of dementia patients, which impose a further financial burden on the family.  Often, caregivers ignore their own medical needs because they focus on caring for their family member with dementia and raising their own family.  Some refer to this type of caregiver as the “sandwich generation.”

The proper attention given to improvements in medicine with regard to dementia will assist society on getting a handle on this costly condition. And with help from an Elder Law attorney, the family of those afflicted with dementia can obtain the guidance and support they need to care properly for their loved one.  This includes access to community resources, support groups and getting legal and financial affairs in order prior to a crisis.  Plan early.  Everyone should obtain a Health Care Power of Attorney, Property Power of Attorney and a Last Will & Testament to make their wishes known and avoid crisis and court intervention.