That’s how many Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2020, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The same study projects that the number will climb to 14 million by 2050. Chances are that you personally know someone who has been diagnosed, maybe even in your own family.
Here are five things you need to know in order to be financially prepared for the possibility of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Understand your employment benefits
In the event of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or a brain injury, your health and disability insurance will become your first line of defense. Someone in the early stages of the disease may be able to work for a while, so it pays to spend a couple of hours reading through your benefits package to get familiar with your options. Those who are likely to take the role of a caregiver should investigate whether they would be able to take time off under the Family Medical Leave Act.
Don’t skip checkups
It is true that today, there is no FDA-approved treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease. Unfortunately, some people read that statement and walk away thinking that early screening and checkups are therefore pointless.
That couldn’t be further from reality. Changes to the brain could be happening for over a decade before the onset of clinical symptoms. If detected early and addressed with lifestyle changes and therapies, an intervention could potentially make a tremendous difference for someone’s quality of life. So, find a physician you trust and don’t skip your annual checkups.
Get your financial house in order
Life gets busy, and there are always better and more fun ways to spend an evening or a weekend than sorting account statements or researching long term care insurance. Still, it is of critical importance for everyone to get organized sooner rather than later.
Here’s a starter financial preparedness list.
- Legal documents, including a Will, a Power of Attorney for health care, a Durable Power of Attorney for financial matters, and a Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST). For some families, the list should also include a Trust.
- A master list of all bank and investment accounts, insurance products, property documents, etc. that will make it easier for your family to know what the moving pieces are. Make sure all accounts are properly titled.
- A financial plan which includes a range of “what-if” scenarios.
This may look daunting, and as I mentioned earlier, there are always other priorities vying for your attention. And yet, it is important to get these documents in place early. After an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or a traumatic brain injury, your planning options would shrink dramatically.
Be prepared to navigate a patchwork of specialists and resources
It would be comforting to find a single expert or specialist who would be available 24/7 to help you make decisions, shorten the learning curve, and get access to resources. Unfortunately, such a person is difficult (if not impossible) to find in the case of Alzheimer’s Disease. Be prepared to navigate several expertise “silos” to get answers to your medical, financial, and practical caregiving questions. Don’t be afraid to ask how different parts of the system connect to each other and work together.
Work with a CPA or a financial planner
Alzheimer’s is tough news — no matter when someone gets it. Part of the tragedy of this disease is that it often strikes vibrant, active, young individuals with no warning. A diagnosis is devastating and discouraging, which is why families can often feel as though there is nothing they can do to improve their circumstances.
However, there are many possible scenarios for what happens after a diagnosis, how quickly the disease progresses, and the options to assure care and support throughout this journey. Adults 65 and older survive an average of 4 to 8 years after they are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Dementia, but in this instance averages can be misleading. For some people, the life span is even shorter. Others can live with the disease for 20 years.
Because Alzheimer’s presents and progresses differently in every patient, each family’s financial plan for dealing with the disease will be different. No matter what the specifics look like, take some time now to put financial and legal plans in place. That will allow everyone to express and document their wishes and preferences. It will also open the door to discussing important, potentially expensive, and time-consuming matters of caregiving.
Those are hard conversations to have, even when they are hypothetical. So, work with a CPA or a financial planner who can help you ask the right questions, connect to the right professionals, and face the future with the strongest financial and legal foundation possible.