Is America Prepared for an Alzheimer's Crisis?

By: Anthony J. Enea, Esq.

Having spent approximately the last thirty years representing seniors and their families with the myriad of legal and familial issues impacting them as they age, I have unfortunately seen first hand the havoc created by a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. What has become most apparent is that more and more individuals are being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia related illness such as Parkinson’s disease and Lewy Body dementia.  Sadly, I have also recently observed Alzheimer’s being diagnosed at ages earlier than one would normally expect. In recent years I have counseled a number of families where an Alzheimer’s diagnoses was made of an individual in their 60s and two families where the diagnosis was made in their 50s and 40s; a truly frightening prospect.

The Alzheimer’s Association, in its most recent projections, estimated that there are presently 5.3 million individuals diagnosed with the Alzheimer’s. They have also projected that, by 2050, the number will grow to 13.8 million. That is a staggering number. The Alzheimer’s Association is also predicting that the costs associated with increased diagnoses to be $1.1 trillion yearly, mostly to Medicare and Medicaid. Robert Egge, the Chief Public Policy Officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, was recently quoted as stating, "Basically, it will bankrupt Medicare." At all levels these projections are stunning.

Clearly, as more and more individuals are diagnosed with the illnesses commonly associated with the aging process, irrespective of whether it impacts one mentally and/or physically, it is inevitable that the cost of care on the Medicare and Medicaid programs will dramatically increase.  As these costs increase it is also more likely that the financial eligibility requirements for a program such as Medicaid will become more restrictive.

Thus, as my Uncle Eddy likes to say, a person who is "maturing" (not "aging") must take a proactive approach to planning for their future needs. This proactive approach often consists of a combination of the following actions:

(a) Executing a Durable Power of Attorney with broad powers, including, but not limited to, broad gifting powers. This will allow one’s family to handle all financial affairs in the event one no longer has the capacity to do so;
(b) Executing an Irrevocable Trust, and funding said trust with one’s home and a portion of one’s (non-IRA/Retirement) liquid assets to shelter said assets from the cost of long term care;
(c) Considering the purchase of Long Term Care Insurance;
(d) Executing Advance Directives such as a Health Care Proxy and HIPPA form wherein you can appoint those to make medical decisions for you and have access to your medical records if you are no longer able to do so; and
(e) Executing and funding a Revocable Living Trust to allow continuity of management of ones assets in the event of incapacity.  The revocable living trust will also help avoid probate upon your demise. 

All too often one is lulled into believing that addressing ones mortality and the infirmities and illness associated with aging is something that can be pushed to the back burner… "It’s something I will deal with after Labor Day, or after the Holidays." 

In conclusion, I encourage you to be proactive when it relates to planning for your long term care.