Alzheimer’s disease is a currently irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly erodes memory and thinking skills. If you or a loved one notice the onset of memory or cognitive issues, is it worth seeking a diagnosis? Why not just manage the best you can until something serious happens? The answer is: a diagnosis is more important than you might think, for reasons that are different from the ones that might first occur to you.
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease helps patients and their families to focus on two important issues: treatment and planning.
Let’s address treatment first. Once you are diagnosed, there are steps you can take to treat the disease and its symptoms. At present, slowing the progression of the disease is the goal. Currently, there are several drugs on the market that may slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s Disease. Your doctor’s advice should be sought on this subject.
Medically-proven treatments that would stop the disease’s progression, or cure the affected person, are still to be discovered. And while there is no such treatment presently available, a tremendous amount of money and energy is being expended on testing new drugs and procedures.
Planning for care – and how it will be paid for – are even more compelling reasons to seek a diagnosis. The cost of treating someone with Alzheimer’s disease can literally be disastrous. Ruth Drew, the director of family and information services at the Alzheimer’s Association, stated in a New York Times blog article that although the average course of the disease for all people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is 6 to 8 years, “patients who are physically healthy when Alzheimer’s is diagnosed can live for up to 15 or even 20 years.” Think about the possibility of paying for increasingly complex and expensive health care for 20 years. The sooner you start planning how you will deal with this issue, the better.
The combination of a large expected increase in the senior population and the longer time that people are living with the disease is leading to an enormous rise in the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease. The number is expected to almost triple between 2013 and 2050, from 5 million to 14 million people.
These factors are creating large financial risks for our health care system as a whole, and for seniors on an individual basis. It might be far more pleasant in the near term for someone who suspects a diagnosis of dementia to stick his or her head in the sand, hoping that somehow the problem will resolve itself without having to do anything. This is not a wise strategy! It can – and does – lead people into financial ruin.
Gaining knowledge of the problem early on will empower you in numerous ways. You can take appropriate action with regard to treatment and at least have a chance of slowing the disease’s progression. And equally important, you can take the proper steps to protect yourself or your loved one financially.
If you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and do no planning, you could easily use up all your money very quickly, and then spend years totally dependent on government assistance as your health declines.
In New York, in particular, there are legal steps you can take to protect your assets and income. The goal is to enable them to be used for you over a longer period of time, and hopefully to make them last for the rest of your life. Good legal advice from experienced attorneys is the best way to plan and protect yourself.
The most important and useful steps you can take if you suspect dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, are to get a diagnosis and start planning. The Alzheimer’s Association has an excellent article about signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, with links to information about treatment options and care planning options. Lamson & Cutner’s website gives a lot of information about long-term care, and how to plan and pay for it.