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updated: 4/24/2013 11:09 AM

Westmont Eldercare Expert Warns Dementia Care Surpasses Cost of Care for Cancer and Heart Disease

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  • Mardy Chizek, Charism Eldercare Services, Westmont

    Mardy Chizek, Charism Eldercare Services, Westmont
    Mardy Chizek

David Brimm

The number of Americans with dementia is estimated to be between four and five million, which when you factor in Alzheimer's, has become the most expensive malady in the U.S., costing families and society $157 billion to $215 billion a year, according to a new Rand study. Cancer and heart disease are the bigger killers, but their attending costs are lower than that of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia due to not only drugs or other medical treatments, but the care that's needed just to get cognitively impaired people through daily life.

The Alzheimer's Association reports the number of people 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease is estimated to increase 40 percent to 7.1 million by 2025. Without medical advancements, that number is projected to rise to 13.8 million people by 2050 and could reach as high as 16 million.

Dementia incidence increases dramatically from age 65 to age 85, with many studies reporting a doubling every 5 years. Community studies indicate that the rates of dementia increase from 30% for persons aged 85 through 89 years to 50% for persons aged 90-94 years, to 74% for those 95 years or older. Other studies indicate that beyond the age of 90 the rate of new diagnosis of dementia levels off.

"Dementing illnesses are often chronic and maybe terminal conditions. Dementia is a general term for presentation with mental confusion. Alzheimer's disease is the most frequent condition leading to this confusion. However, a new onset of mental confusion does not always mean a dementing condition. In fact, up to 15 percent of the time the confusion is due to a treatable or reversible cause. All dementia and Alzheimer's disease do not present the same way. Mental confusion is considered the hallmark, but word-finding difficulty, language issues, visiospatial problems and navigation may be the first signs and symptoms. Early identification offers the best potential outcomes," recommends Chizek, an RN and president of CharismŽ Eldercare Services in Westmont, Illinois.

On top of direct medical costs, researchers factored in unpaid care using two different ways to estimate its value - foregone wages for caregivers and what the care would have cost if bought from a provider such as a home health agency. That gave a total annual cost of $41,000 to $56,000 per year for each dementia case, depending on which valuation method was used.

Caregiving fatigue is a real health concern for today's caregivers, especially since six in ten family caregivers are employed. In fact, 73 percent of family caregivers who care for someone over the age of 18 either works or have worked while providing care; Some 66 percent have had to make some adjustments to their work life, from reporting late to work to giving up work entirely; and 1 in 5 family caregivers have had to take a leave of absence.

"The emotional and physical cost of this act of love is not even quantifiable. Often the caregiver either does not recognize their stress or cannot admit to it. Their first request for assistance is often when a crisis hits rather than recognizing change and acting proactively. As human beings, we naturally procrastinate when we are confronted by a perceived overwhelming problem. Ask for help, this does not mean that you are weak or less capable," proposes Chizek.

Chizek suggests that dementia care costs will inevitably rise, but family members and caretakers can help reduce long-term care costs of dementia by paying close attention to seniors who start exhibiting confusion and memory loss. Early intervention can help control the progression of dementia, so communicate with a senior's medical team and begin a treatment plan.

For more information on making informed decisions about dementia care, visit Mardy Chizek and Charism Eldercare Services on-line at