Financial peace of mind can help ease Alzheimer’s impact

By on June 15, 2015

The dramatic increase in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and the recent finding that a quarter of South Africans will suffer from a mental health condition in their lifetime should spur breadwinners to prepare financially for the cost of the condition. 

The South African Federation for Mental Health recently reported that 75% of people with mental health disorders are untreated, while the organisation Alzheimer’s in Action estimates that SA has 750 000 people with Alzheimer’s, a number that will double by 2030.

Peter Bond, Chief Medical Officer at Old Mutual, says this sharp increase places a responsibility on financial service providers to clearly explain the extent of the cover their various products provide.

Importantly the onus is on consumers to inform themselves and seek out sound advice. “Being aware and preparing for Alzheimer’s possible onset should form part of everybody’s financial lifestyle planning,” says Bond.

The aim is to raise awareness about the most common form of dementia, which can affect anyone, as it’s not associated with any particular race, gender or lifestyle. “Advances in treatment mean that people live longer with the disease than previously. While this is good news, it may also increase the financial burden on families who have to cover the cost of treatment as well as part or full-time caregivers should they be needed.

“In its advanced stages, the deterioration of the sufferer’s mental state often places great strain on loved ones, who may then opt to admit them for full-time care in a medical facility. That can cost many thousands of rands a month.”

Bond emphasises the need for support of not only the patient, but also the caregiver and spouse. “There is nothing that can prepare you for this disease. Not only is your loved one no longer the person they were, but friends may also disappear. The caregiver feels trapped with the patient and misses the companionship – it is very lonely and isolating.”

Bond adds that the impact of the disease is compounded by the fact that its onset is late in life. Most people who develop Alzheimer’s do so when they’re retired and many South Africans are financially under-prepared for retirement.

The most recent update of the Old Mutual Savings and Investment Monitor found that more than a third of working South Africans have no provision for their retirement at all. It also noted a steady increase in the number of breadwinners providing financially for children as well as parents – the so-called Sandwich Generation.

Insurance providers offer products called severe illness cover, which pay out a benefit if you’re diagnosed with one of the listed severe illnesses, to take care of the lifestyle adjustments you may need to make.

A person with so-called dread diseases such as strokes, heart attacks or cancer are paid out upon diagnosis; but with degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s this pay-out is made when a certain level of disability is reached, such as no longer being able to drive.

“When initially diagnosed with a degenerative disease, the patient may still have a fairly good quality of life for a long time. The severe illness benefit kicks in at a later stage, when families are taking physical and emotional strain and need the help of a carer or a specialised home – a cost that is unlikely to be covered by a medical aid.

“The peace of mind that goes with being financially prepared helps to alleviate some of the stress families experience at this time.  It’s vital to prepare financially for all life’s stages,” Bond concludes.

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