Dementia care costs vastly more than for cancer, heart disease

Heart attacks and cancer are among the common maladies among older Americans. However, their costs do not even compare to treating a far more expensive malady--dementia.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that the most expensive healthcare-related cost of care during the last five years of life was dementia, at $287,038 per patient on average. That's a vastly larger cost than for heart disease or cancer, at $175,136 and $173,383, respectively.

And while Medicare paid about the same to care for heart disease, cancer and dementia patients during the last five years of life--around $100,000--the dementia patients had far more expenses that were not covered. The average out-of-pocket costs for dementia patients were $61,522, about 80 percent higher than patients with heart disease or cancer. 

That appears to be in line with conclusions from a previous study that calculated dementia cost the U.S. between $159 and $219 billion a year, while Medicare covers about $11 billion of the total cost. 

The more recent study concluded that the out-of-pocket costs for dementia patients represented nearly one-third of their wealth, compared to 11 percent in the study's control group. If the dementia patients were African-American, the costs consumed 84 percent of their wealth; if they are unmarried or widowed women, it consumed 58 percent of their wealth.

"It's stunning that people who start out with the least end up with even less," Kenneth Covinsky, M.D., a geriatrician at UC San Francisco, told The New York Times. "It's scary. And they haven't even counted some of the costs, like the daughter who gave up time from work and is losing part of her retirement and her children's college fund."

Dementia symptoms can also be aggravated with other relatively straightforward medical conditions, such as infections. There have been some technological breakthroughs in detecting dementia before symptoms appear, which may give patients and their families more time to prepare for its onset. However, there have been few changes in healthcare delivery to actually address the issue.

To learn more:
- check out the study abstract
- read The New York Times article