November is National Family Caregivers Month & Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

By Ric Cochran

 November is a busy month, honoring those who have served our country on Veterans Day as well as celebrating Thanksgiving. We also honor family caregivers, National Family Caregivers Month, and recognize the devastation caused by dementia, National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. While some disabilities are being overcome to varying degrees, Dementia is absolutely incurable at this time and growing at an alarming rate! So is the cost.

To understand the cost of dementia, consider that if dementia costs were company profits, global dementia costs, estimated to be $604 Billion per year, would outpace every company on the planet including Exxon and Apple combined. These costs are conservative and recognized to be underreported because they are difficult to measure. It’s difficult to measure the lost tax revenues or cascading financial instability when family members leave the workplace early and under-fund their own retirement. What about the spouse who spends everything caring for a husband or wife and becomes financially insecure because they were unaware of the work we do to protect family estates from long-term care costs? What is the value of uncompensated care provided by family caregivers who may imperil their health due to injury or stress? How do we measure the full cost to companies of time employees spend on the phone or away from work caring for family members, especially in small businesses?

To understand the scope of dementia, consider that every nation with an aging population is facing a ticking time bomb. Some, like China, have exacerbated the problem with extreme efforts to control births, leaving fewer younger family members, by percentage, to care for aging relatives. Many have rightly been concerned with how to provide food, housing, energy, and health care for growing world populations.

To understand the statistical risk of dementia, consider that while most dementia patients are diagnosed after turning 65, some are diagnosed or were showing signs as early as their fifties. After 65, the risk dementia doubles every five years. In the fastest growing population, those 85 and above, dementia strikes 1 out of 2.

Patients and families are at the mercy of a dysfunctional health care system trying to control budgets by making benefit eligibility rules difficult to access or understand.  When eligibility information isn’t being hidden from public view, it is often incomplete and incomprehensible to the average person as well as many professionals. States often add restrictions that violate federal guidelines drafted by Congress. When crooks con the elderly out of their savings, we recognize the injustice. When the elderly are denied information that could keep them from losing most of their life’s savings if they need long-term care, we shrug and call it bureaucracy. But whether you or your parents went broke investing with Bernie Madoff, or from Medicaid hiding information and adding restrictions in violation of federal policy, broke is broke.

Since our dysfunctional health care system hides information from the public and allows states to employ federally non-compliant restrictions, the amount of misinformation in the public sector is enormous. Insurance representatives (especially those selling long-term care policies), financial planners, accountants, attorneys, brokers, bankers, clergy, even people in the health care field, those typically relied on for information and advice often provide information that is both outdated and inaccurate to the point of being harmful while trying to help. Like grandma said, the road to perdition is paved with good intentions.

Make no mistake! Dementia is a health crisis families don’t want to talk about. As the holidays approach and families gather, they should take notice of who is becoming more forgetful, repeating things frequently or getting lost going to familiar places. In engaging them, it’s often better to avoid using the D-word or the A-word (dementia or Alzheimer’s) both of which can be very scary. Using words like “forgetful” can be less threatening. You might want to get some information about how to engage them from the Alzheimer’s Association at their website (alz.org) or by calling 1-800-272-3900 where you can speak to a trained counselor day or night, even on weekends.  Ignoring symptoms leaves loved ones at an increasingly greater risk of losing their financial security and having fewer options if they need long-term care.

Procrastinating also leaves undiagnosed dementia patients a target for those who would take advantage of them by mail, by phone, over the internet (if they’re web-savvy), or at their door. I see it too frequently, from the political organizations and preachers who “desperately need their support” to the psychics, subscriptions, contests, and “business opportunities,” to the handyman who collects repeatedly for the same job or collects up-front for a project and disappears. Some prey on their fears, touting ways to “hide” their assets. Sadly, the hiding done by some can truly make assets disappear and not in a good way. When the savings have already been drained, it’s a little late to look for the leak.

We at S.A.F.E. Planning have committed to holding educational workshops for the public. We will continue educating the public about how assets can be protected from being squandered to pay for nursing home care even when someone is already in a nursing home. After all, what’s the point of saving and investing only to lose it all paying for long-term care?