Many people have heard the term “Alzheimer’s Disease,” but there is a great deal of confusion about the real meaning and what constitutes an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Understanding Alzheimer’s can help you cope with the possibility that you or someone you love may be suffering from this disease and can help you understand what you can and cannot do to help Alzheimer’s patients.

What Is Alzheimer’s?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that affects patients mentally, emotionally and physically. Alzheimer’s symptoms generally develop very slowly and appear sporadically at first.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for between 50 and 80 percent of all dementia cases. The majority of sufferers are over 65 years of age, although about five percent of Alzheimer’s patients have the early-onset form of the disease, in which symptoms appear in the 50’s or even in the 40’s.

Most people live an average of eight years after symptoms appear. Symptoms start with loss of memory, irritability, and faulty cognitive processes that only appear sporadically. As the disease progresses, the symptoms become more noticeable until the patient can no longer relate to the outside world or carry on a conversation. Alzheimer’s patients are unable to participate in their own care and require constant attention.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Alzheimer’s affects not only the patients with the disease but also the caregivers and family members who must watch the deterioration of the patient, helpless to do anything to stop the progress of the disease.

Currently, there are no cures for Alzheimer’s, nor is there any way to slow the disease’s progress. However, certain drugs can lessen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s temporarily and allow the patient to enjoy a better quality of life with his or her family.

Does Health Insurance Pay Alzheimer’s Costs?

Because Alzheimer’s patients require extensive, 24-hour care, many families are worried that they may not be able to afford to treat the disease. In some cases, families try to care for patients at home, only to find that it is not possible for them. However, nursing homes are so expensive that some families are simply at a loss as to how to handle Alzheimer’s patients.

While many insurance companies will pay the cost of treatment for Alzheimer’s care, few pay substantially toward nursing home fees. The Affordable Care Act contains several provisions that may help patients facing the challenge of dealing with Alzheimer’s. In short, the ACA provides for the following:

  • Medicare patients will no longer face the “donut hole,” the gap in coverage previously required under Medicare for prescription drugs. Under the old “donut hole” plan, Medicare patients received drug benefits up to a certain amount, then were required to pay 100 percent of these costs until they reached a second, higher total. This put a great burden on Medicare recipients who were struggling with Alzheimer’s. Under the ACA, the donut hole will be closed, allowing for seamless coverage for prescriptions.
  • New annual wellness benefit for seniors allows earlier detection of Alzheimer’s. Under current proposals, the annual wellness checkup would include cognitive impairment screening.
  • A new Medicare pilot would provide special services for seniors who are at high risk of re-entering a hospital after an initial admission. By definition, those who are at high risk includes dementia patients.

Although these changes have helped seniors deal with the realities of Alzheimer’s, many of them still find themselves unable to meet all the financial and emotional burdens of care for a loved one.

Support Groups for Alzheimer’s Patients and Families

Many areas sponsor support groups for the patients and families living with Alzheimer’s. This support becomes more necessary once the disease sets in and families are struggling to deal with Alzheimer’s patients. Support groups may be able to direct family members to resources or programs that can help them, and can also provide much-needed emotional buttressing. Sharing experiences with those who are dealing with the same problems can often have a soothing and beneficial effect on Alzheimer’s caregivers.

What Are The Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s?

While no one should worry unduly about getting Alzheimer’s in old age, early detection offers the best chance of medical intervention that can lessen the symptoms of this disease. The Alzheimer’s Association lists ten signs of developing Alzheimer’s that include:

  • Disruptive Memory Loss
  • Loss of problem-solving skills
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Time and/or Location Confusion
  • Trouble interpreting visual images
  • Speaking and/or writing problems
  • Object misplacement or inability to retrace steps
  • Poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Personality and mood changes

If you see these symptoms in a loved one, contact a doctor immediately for an assessment.