There is far too little financial help out there. If you Google “financial help” and “cancer,” you will bring up links to hundreds and hundreds of charities, both national and local that will help cancer patients in need. Of course, I don’t begrudge cancer patients this help.
But, I wish there was a similar outpouring for our elders with dementia. If you Google “financial help” and “elder care,” you’ll bring up very little: links to Medicare and Medicaid, the Veteran’s Administration and Social Security, the local Administration on Aging. You’ll find links to the federal Eldercare Locator, but not very much on exactly how to pay for that elder care.
The Eldercare Resource Locator, run by a for-profit company is sort of a step in the right direction. But when I put hypothetical data into their search program, it most returned the same government results: Medicare, Medicaid, veteran’s benefits, plus some links to local daycare programs, or respite programs for caregivers, or help with prescriptions.
This is better than nothing, of course, but what if the elder isn’t eligible for these programs? What about the families of adult children who suddenly face the staggering cost of elder care? There just aren’t many charities to help families who are struggling to take care of an elder.
I’m thinking of a new patient family that I’m helping pro bono. I’ll leave out the identifying details, but basically the situation is this: An elderly woman in her mid-80s lived with her grandson far from all her adult children. Though she was taking dementia medication and her kids had called Adult Protective Services many times, the grandson got away with convincing this woman to give him all the money she had: two houses, two cars and more. In return, the grandson neglected the elderly lady. Finally, one of the adult children realized how bad things had gotten, flew to the distant state and brought the mother back to Northern California.
This elderly woman, who has clear signs of dementia, has nothing right now: only a monthly Social Security check that’s a few hundred dollars.
While the kids plan to file a lawsuit to get back the houses and other assets, that will take months, if not years. What do they do in the meantime? With a family and obligations of their own, how will the kids pay for the care of their elderly parent? While this patient may be eligible for some public programs, it will take months to figure that out. If she can’t be left alone, how do the adult children continue to work in the meantime? How do the adult children keep from getting burned out? How do they financially bridge this short-term crisis?
I would like to say that this is unusual story. Alas, it is not.
The National Elder Mistreatment Study found that 1 in 10, or 10 percent, of elders are mistreated. More than 5 percent suffer financial abuse at the hands of family members.
The numbers are even more shocking for those who suffer from dementia: Approximately half of dementia patients are abused. At the very minimum, at least 1 million seniors lose $2.6 billion each year, according to a study by MetLife.
And yet, for every case of financial elder abuse that comes to light, experts estimate that from 40 to 100 other cases go unreported.
We have to talk more about these cases. We need to talk about how big this problem is becoming. Raising awareness is just the first step.
Next we need to put our money where our mouths are. We need to help these elders and their families, not just with empathy and emotional support, but with practical, financial help. If you know of sources of financial help for elders and their families, please let us know here. And spread the word!