My father’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse, and I know I will eventually have to take over his care. I want to be prepared financially. What should I expect in terms of cost?
When caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, you learn to expect the unexpected. But you can take action to prepare for the costs of care, which often surge as Alzheimer’s advances.
First, the emotional costs are astronomical, and most caregivers don’t fully realize it until they’re in the thick of it, finding themselves spent, regardless of the monetary burden. But measured in dollars, the average cost of care for someone with Alzheimer’s is nearly $60,000 annually, says Connie Chow, founder of DailyCaring.
Alzheimer’s is notoriously unpredictable and affects each person differently. Similarly, the actual costs of caring for the disease will vary based on where your loved one lives and what level of care she needs, Chow notes.
“One of the most remarkable things about the cost of care is how wide the range is,” says Michael Guerrero, co-founder and senior benefits adviser for Elder Care Resource Planning. Private home care can range from just $10 an hour to $15,000 monthly, he says.
Per month, assisted living generally costs between $2,500 and $8,500, while independent senior living communities are a bit less, between $1,500 and $2,500, and nursing homes range from $7,000 to $12,000.
Go Where the Care Is
If you’re caring from a distance, you may need to consider a move. While you can arrange home care remotely, you’ll need a backup if the worker doesn’t show up for a shift or if the companion is not a good fit for your loved one.
Even when an older adult transitions to a full-time care setting, the primary caregiver is still very much involved in healthcare decisions and, depending on what the community provides, may also need to arrange transportation to doctor’s visits and other appointments.
Visiting the loved one is important too, not only for your relationship, but also to ensure the elder adult is receiving quality care. So, if you choose a residential setting, keep this in mind. At the end of a long work day, will you be able to travel an hour one way and back to check in with Dad? If you live further out, can other family members or close friends get to the community quickly should an emergency or health crisis occur?
Planning Is Everything
Guerrero recommends creating a care plan so you don’t pay for more — or less — care than you actually need.
Is around-the-clock care in assisted living absolutely necessary, or could you invest in home care services for the hours your loved one needs the most help? Can you pay a neighbor you trust to check in on Mom a few times a day?
Maybe you just need coverage while you’re at work. If so, adult day care is a highly affordable option — the national average is $1,473 a month — and provides the added value of social engagement for your parent.
Specialized Alzheimer’s care in assisted living is usually at the highest end of senior living costs. The already steep price tag can get even higher if your loved one needs more support than what the base package provides; supplementary services are typically charged a la carte.
For example: If Dad has a tendency to wander — the Alzheimer’s Association estimates 6 in 10 people with dementia will wander at some point — you may need to bring in private duty care for closer supervision.
Guerrero suggests combining options from public sources (VA pensions, Medicaid) and private ones (home equity, life insurance) for your care strategy. This is especially important because someone with Alzheimer’s can live for up to 20 years after diagnosis — though the average ranges between four and eight years, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Consider the Emotional Costs
Full-time care in a nursing home or an Alzheimer’s community may be the best option for your parent at some point, but don’t rush it. It carries its own set of emotional and logistical costs, like having to downsize a parent’s belongings or the loss of your parent’s independence and privacy.
People with dementia can have extended plateaus — periods where they maintain a certain level of daily function — before you see a decline. If you’re still able to manage the care in your or your parent’s home, take advantage of options like family participation, respite care grants, privately hired aides, and adult day programs that can reduce costs greatly, Chow says.
As the primary caregiver, you may even be eligible through state and federal programs to receive payment for the care you provide, which could help offset the potential costs.
But if the balancing act of working, raising a family, and caregiving is stretching you too thin, consider the value of your own health and the financial cost of emergency care should a crisis occur.
You can’t predict the future, but you can prepare for it. And when you do, factor yourself into the caregiving equation because you’re a key component in making it work.