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By the time Mom took my dad to the doctor, we were almost grateful for his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Dad had been acting strange for months. He could no longer play domino games he’d played all his life, he was unable to follow any TV shows but the simplest sitcoms, and then one day he launched into a bizarre rant about something my neighbor said to him. (He made it all up; she never said those things.) But my dad was a tennis player and always healthy—even in his eighties. My siblings and I never expected this — but apparently he did.

My parents were both retired school teachers. One of their investment options through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas was an annuity to help pay for long-term skilled nursing care. Dad took the offer from TRS so was covered when the unthinkable happened. Mom kept him home, though, because she could; that’s another story. For those who don’t have insurance—and even for many who do—the costs of such a diagnosis can be financially devastating.

The average cost of long-term care is high: assisted living is $43,200 per year, nursing home care $80,300 to $91,250 per year. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that annual out of pocket costs range from $1,000 to $100,000. Spouses or partners average more than $12,000 annually while some adult children spend $10,000 or more caring for their parents. My mom found herself in the “unpaid assistants” category, caring for dad at home. In 2015, caregivers of people with dementia provided more than 18 billion hours of informal, unpaid assistance, a contribution to the nation valued at $221.3 billion.

The experts tell us to verify our insurance coverage before we need it. Many of us who think we’re covered, apparently are not. This would be a good time to ask.


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