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The Staggering Cost of Dementia to Society

Understanding the cost of dementia

Many Marylanders know of someone who has been diagnosed with dementia. It is a costly, heart-breaking and life- altering syndrome that is nearly doubling in the numbers of people affected worldwide every 20 years. Dementia has affected the likes of Rosa Parks, James Doohan, Robin Williams, Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, Norman Rockwell, and many other well-known people. Dementia does not discriminate based on race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or socio economic status. Instead, its effects are widely dispersed and the cost of dementia can be significant – on its victim, the family, and society as a whole.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is one such example. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. Symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, but it is diagnosed when at least two of the following core mental functions are significantly impaired: memory, communication and language, ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning and judgment, and visual perception.

These symptoms can be displayed when the person with dementia has problem with short-term memory, keeping track of his or her purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments, or traveling out of the neighborhood. These often progressive symptoms will likely eventually necessitate assistance with daily activities, resulting in increased expense and stress on the individual, their family members, and society at large.

The RAND Study: Understanding the Cost of Dementia to Society

The RAND Corporation concluded a nearly decade long study on ~ 11,000 people. The study shed light on dementia statistics including rates of diagnosis and cost to society. The results of this study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013. The study’s results are credible – it was led by an independent, non-advocacy group and financed by the federal government.

According to the RAND study, the cost of caring for those with dementia is projected to double by 2040 and is currently higher than caring for those with heart disease or cancer. The direct cost of dementia, including the cost of medicine and nursing home, was $109 billion in 2010 compared to $102 billion for heart disease and $77 billion for cancer. The cost of dementia is pushed even higher, to $215 billion, when financial support from family members or other loved ones is factored in. Moreover, the direct cost of dementia is projected to rise to $511 billion by 2040. Information from the RAND study and from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) indicates that, by 2020, dementia patients will account for about 10% of the elderly population while direct medical spending on them will equal about 17% of all spending projected for Medicare and Medicaid devoted to the aged.

The cost of dementia to society is great and is headed for a huge increase. In light of that, former President Obama signed into law the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which calls for tracking the financial cost of dementia as well as increased efforts to find new treatments and better care for those with dementia.

The Cost of Dementia to the Family

While the cost to society is great and will likely have a substantial impact on all of us, the cost to individuals diagnosed with dementia and their loved ones are even more significant. 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. In fact, caregivers have been found to be at increased risks for depression and anxiety and long term medical problems, which impose a further financial burden on the family.

We can help. 

Dementia poses higher costs to society and individuals than heart disease or cancer and these costs are projected to continue rising. Most significant is the cost of care for the patient. The dementia-ridden person will progressively need more and more help with daily activities and this is the biggest cost of the debilitating syndrome. With the proper attention given to improvements in medicine with regards to dementia, society will be able to get a handle on this costly condition. And, with help from a long-term care planning attorney, the family of those afflicted with dementia can obtain the support they need to care properly for their loved one.

At McDonald Law Firm, we can help clients prepare or deal with an immediate need to find appropriate resources in dealing with dementia. We can support the loved one in making sure the dementia patient has access to the care and medical attention they need. Contact Andre O. McDonald, a knowledgeable Howard County elder law attorney at (443) 741-1088 to discuss what resources are available to your loved one with dementia.



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For help with estate planning, special needs planning or elder law throughout Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore County; and Baltimore City, contact McDonald Law Firm, LLC.

McDonald Law Firm, LLC

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Columbia, MD 21044-3563

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Bethesda, MD 20814

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