Alzheimer’s, like any form of dementia, can be devastating to Massachusetts families physically, emotionally and financially. Most of the clients I work with who are either personally affected by this disease or who are planning ahead in case of incapacity are seniors who realize that life is precious and failing to plan is planning to fail. However, an even more heart breaking dimension of this disease came to my attention while reading an article on early-onset Alzheimer’s.
I’ve written before about early onset Alzheimer’s and how it can affect one’s career and family future, but never before did I realize just how young this disease can hit. The article (found here) tells the story of Mike and Leo. Mike was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s when he was just 36. More than a decade later he is still receiving round the clock care for even the most basic needs. Leo, diagnosed at 51, was as a successful district manager at a grocery store and the major breadwinner of his family. Today, all the money he receives from his early pension, Social Security and disability goes straight to his nursing home.
According to the article, Alzheimer’s affects about one in eight Americans aged 65 and over, and nearly half of the people aged 85 and older. In total, an estimated 5.4 million Americans have the disease, while early-onset Alzheimer’s, afflicting people under 65, accounts for less than 10% of cases.
The article points out that most early-onset families, like those of older patients, often face extreme financial distress as a result of their loved one’s incapacity. “I feel like a criminal,” the wife of one of the profiled patients says about having to explain all her expenses to Medicaid. If she saves anything for her daughter, Medicaid can claim she is impermissibly gifting money even though she receives no compensation for the loss of the family’s main income. Although not wanting to be a burden on her children, she can’t see how she’ll ever be able to retire since all of the family’s money is going toward long term care costs.
This type of financial struggle resulting from incapacity is a sad but common story I hear often. However, like I tell my clients, there are ways you can protect your assets from long-term care costs. The key is being proactive and planning ahead before disaster strikes.