The Alzheimer’s Association, an organization established to promote both care for Alzheimer’s patients and research into eradicating the disease, recently published a report outlining the prevalence and cost of the disease in Maryland and the rest of the country. In addition to its conclusion that the cost of caring for Alzheimer’s patients will increase greatly over the next twenty to thirty years, the study found that a significant percentage of Alzheimer’s sufferers live alone, with no one to provide care even on a part-time basis. Alzheimer’s already constitutes a very large portion of nursing home and extended care costs. The increased incidence of Alzheimer’s and the lack of support for many sufferers cause concern for us as advocates for nursing home residents suffering abuse and neglect.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, causing progressive degeneration of brain functions. It most often afflicts people over the age of 60. Little is known about the disease’s precise cause and means of progression, and there is no cure. The disease often manifests first with confusion or irritability, and can progress to forgetfulness and difficulty with language. People with the disease often suffer serious long-term memory loss, and eventually even bodily functions are affected, leading to death.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.4 million Americans currently suffer from the disease, 5.2 million of them over the age of 65. Almost thirty percent of Alzheimer’s sufferers receive Medicare or Medicaid. Seventy-five percent of people with Alzheimer’s will go to a nursing home by age 80, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates.This is compared to four percent of the general population, meaning that the costs will strain states’ Medicaid budgets.
The report found that about 15.2 million people provide non-professional care to Alzheimer’s sufferers nationwide, including 278,490 in Maryland. This mostly consists of family members and friends providing unpaid care. The report estimates the nationwide economic value of this unpaid care at $210 billion in 2011. Maryland’s share of that amount exceeds $3.8 billion. The caregivers themselves also tend to incur additional health care costs due to the stress of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient. This costs Maryland caregivers around $173 million each year.
Approximately 800,000 Alzheimer’s patients live alone, according to the study, and about half of them have no “identifiable caregiver.” These individuals face serious risks of illness and death due to their progressive inability to care for themselves. This affects not only their health but public health, as state resources must go towards caring for them, which could mean less funds from Medicaid and other programs for nursing homes. It could also mean influxes of residents into nursing homes, putting strain on administrators and staff.