The Plunder of the Golden Years
"The Autumn years" are supposed to be a time of fond reflection and satisfied affirmation of a life well spent. The end of one's life at the hands of old age should be a time when worry and the daily stresses of survival are no longer paramount. Sadly, that is increasingly not the case in America when medical costs are skyrocketing at almost the same rate as the incidence of disastrous conditions like Alzheimers and senile dementia.
Just like the truism "it's expensive to be poor", a similar situation arises when those who cared for us, the elder generation, are too often left to fend for themselves in a nation with so much help to offer. If the mark of quality in a society is determined by how much it tends to its most needy, then our society gets very poor marks when those who need help most are the ones most taken advantage of.
We see this in the prison industry when enforced poverty creates the desperate. We see this in the military industry when that same poverty is exploited using the promise of personal enrichment through enlistment. We see this in higher prices found in the lowest income areas. And now we are seeing the effects on our parents and grandparents when the medical, pharmaceutical, and home-health industries get involved in monetizing our desperation for profit. If the statistics don't improve, or continue to get worse, we can look forward to it happening to us as well. Many seniors are facing this reality already.
We are a society which punishes the victim and rewards the bully.
Even without these financial problems brought on by medical issues, the elderly are increasingly at risk when they are no longer able to work and have not been able to save enough money to weather the most expensive storm. When most of us can't afford longterm cancer treatments, even with insurance, even when we're young and working, how can we expect the elderly to afford it?
If you think Medicare will pay sufficiently when someone gets dementia, you should take a look at what that money will buy for them. According to the Alzheimer's Association, "(The patient) must need a skilled service for home health care benefits. Many people with Alzheimer's disease have significant chronic care needs, but they do not require the services of a skilled professional." In other words, "You are SOL".
Another facet of many of these diseases is the need for physical therapy, especially in Parkinson's patients. However, there is no such thing as long-term physical therapy for chronic, terminal conditions under Medicare. Many seniors were overjoyed to learn that medicare suddenly covered physical therapy, only to discover this limitation for themselves. If a patient has shown signs of improvement, then the condition is considered 'healed' and the therapy is stopped after a couple weeks. If no improvement is seen, then the condition is considered 'unsalvageable' and therapy is stopped. Physical therapy is covered ONLY as a stopgap, emergency measure. People with chronic diseases need physical therapy every week until they can no longer benefit from it. They won't get that from Medicare. It will be up to you, the caregiver, to make sure your loved one gets what they need, and it will be expensive.
If you decide to go the assisted living route, there are significant limitations as well. In addition to not covering extended physical therapy, medicare will not cover respite care, personal aides, adult day care, or even nursing homes unless certain very specific rules are followed. Even if you are lucky enough to get coverage for a nursing home, they are not designed for long-term care. Nursing homes may have their place, but they are NOT places for people with dementia to live in for years. For that you would need an adult assisted living facility with a memory unit, which are becoming more commonplace. Again, that will NOT be covered by Medicare under most circumstances, and it is extremely expensive, and extremely necessary, because hospitals are not places for people with dementia either.
The private health insurance and assisted living industries are more than happy to ride in on their white horses, and show us all how it's supposed to be done, without silly socialized services getting involved, and messing everything up with their inept, outdated, wasteful practices.
All these facilities are decidedly not created equal. There are definitely better ones, but you must be vigilant in your choices. You should pay close attention to what is available because it might be your parent, grandparent, or yourself in one of these places for the rest of your time on this planet.
When diseases afflicting the elderly are on the rise, such as dementia, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, etc., it puts the focus even more firmly on that age group, especially considering how drastically those diseases impact not only patients, but their families, their loved ones, and society as a whole. This is likely to touch all of us, in one way or another...and possibly in multiple ways. Corporations in the healthcare field are set up to reap the benefits of this situation.
This is not to say the healthcare establishment is responsible for senile dementia or Alzheimer's. The increase is at least partially due to the population spike from the baby boomer generation. There are simply more elderly people because more were born and have lived longer lives than previous generations. But like the spike in the US prison population, where private prisons came in to soak up the profits without actually causing the problem, now we have the corporate healthcare industry coming into our lives to capitalize on the situation to the maximum degree possible.
While research into the horrible problems associated with aging has been vital in the treatment of these diseases, the remedies have not been made freely available to all. Instead, they have been monetized for maximize shareholder profits. This is the case with just about any facet of healthcare in the US, but diseases that affect brain function, reasoning power, memory, or identity are by far the worst, for all involved. The resulting desperation for treatment then drives the prices through the roof.
When you find out that your parent or older loved one has been diagnosed with either Alzheimer's, senile dementia or Parkinson's, you suddenly have to not just consider taking over that person's life for them, but actually do it, if you care about them. They will not be able to take care of themselves. They will lose their right to drive a vehicle, as well as losing their memory, sense of place, identity, their shoes, and the remote control.
You will have to look into legally gaining your loved one's power of attorney, as they will need their finances seen to and you will not be able to help otherwise. You may have to face an inter-family battle for this right. Be prepared for frayed nerves, hurt feelings, and legal fees. You will also need to make decisions for them in many other areas. Should they go to a nursing home immediately or be given in-home nursing care? Both options are astronomically expensive.
For each of these problems there are industries designed to monetize the solutions for us, and for each of these industries there is a large, powerful political lobby to bend laws in their favor. Decide to go the home health route? There's a home health lobby making sure that you pay the most you legally can. Decide to go for the assisted living route? Again, there's a powerful assisted living lobby dedicated to making sure the industry's profits are paramount. Either way, you will be subject to the ultra-powerful big pharma lobby. The result is that in the US we pay more for healthcare-related goods and services than in any other country on Earth.
The US healthcare industry may not be responsible for the existence of Alzheimer's and dementia, which have existed in the disguise of 'senility' for years, but they are also not responsible for doling out the treatments to everyone equally. Not only that, but the incidence of Alzheimer's and dementia is getting worse and worse, worldwide. What was once 'an unfortunate thing that sometimes happened' is now a modern trend that threatens everyone. The Alzheimer’s Association estimated that 5.3 million Americans had Alzheimer’s in 2015. In the United States, the number of people who will need dementia care is expected to increase by 35 percent by 2030 and 110 percent by 2050. The phenomenon is global but statistical trends seem to show a marked difference in how it affects developed countries versus undeveloped ones.
There are those who decry these increases, but on fairly shaky ground. Increases have been documented on the African continent, in the US, Scotland, and many other areas. There are also many who dismiss the entire trend as simply an unfortunate side-effect of people living longer, but why would so many more people comprise the statistics in developing areas? Many of them have not yet seen any significant increases in life expectancy, and in areas which should have had more, i.e. developed areas with better healthcare, we see less representation, or growth. And even if these areas did see increases in life expectancy, could it possibly be enough to produce such a drastic difference in incidence over developed nations?
When new pharmaceutical 'treatments' become available, they are often experimental, dangerous, produce other symptoms (side-effects) without addressing the original one, and are predictably, prohibitively expensive in the US, regardless of global costs. Again, this is a problem which is happening across the board in the US, not specifically to the elderly, but given their innate vulnerabilities and their increasing need for protection, it is a travesty of unconscionable proportion that we as a people are not taking the needs of the elderly into account in this country, but instead consider people an expendable burden as soon as they reach 65, unless they're exceptionally lucky.
Although neither dementia nor Alzheimer's are new, the striking increase in their incidence globally certainly is. Along with that comes an increase in something else that was once simply an oddity: Early-onset Alzheimer's & dementia.
The insurance industry might not have created Alzheimer's, or even the increase in its incidence, but you can bet they use the fear of it to sell long-term healthcare packages. These are great for those who can afford them, though even they have their limits. But what about the rest of us? What will happen to those of us who cannot afford the high cost of these diseases and their related treatments? You can also bet this crisis will be milked for all it's worth by people who want to build up the idea that we need corporate influence in our healthcare.
Then what is causing the upswing in Alzheimer's and dementia cases worldwide? There is now a world of evidence linking aluminum levels in the environment, which can accumulate in the brain, with the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms. There is also global evidence showing increased levels of nano-sized aluminum particles in the environment, and in the air. Most can likely, and rightly, assume what happened next.
So is it a choice between getting raked over the coals by Medicare, or by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries? Unfortunately, even if you are extremely lucky, and you or your loved one bought a comprehensive longterm healthcare package in the 1960's or 70s, you will likely still need the help of Medicare for ambulatory services, etc. Also, you will likely still get rooked on prescription costs, just to a lesser extent than other people. You will still be paying much more for the same drugs than in any other country. So the answer is, you will likely get raked over the coals by everybody during your long process, no matter what.
...But who makes these guidelines for medicare? Under the ACA, both Medicare and Medicaid are administered by private insurance companies, but who decides what to administer? In short, administrations do that, in a perpetual attempt to 'streamline' medicare, making it more 'cost-effective'. They are literally obsessed with it being a huge cost that doesn't pay off in the form of financial returns. These same people derail the US postal service because it doesn't make huge profits. Medicare, and the US postal service, are both services, not businesses, and they shouldn't be run like businesses. Obama's administration was just as guilty as any GOP POTUS for cutting Medicare services, and the corporate pillars in his administration are well known.
The problem may be complex but, as usual, the solution isn't. The United States could ensure that all are covered medically, for their entire lives, with a universal healthcare for all program like HR-676. That won't halt or even slow the global increase in new Alzheimer's and dementia patients (we likely need to clean up our atmosphere to do that) but it will ensure that all of us, even if we live to be 100, will have the adequate care we need without going bankrupt.
Also as usual, knowledge of the fact that the US is monetarily sovereign will answer the questions about how we'll pay for this. We have the ability to pay for universal healthcare for all, and for environmental cleanup efforts, if congress would only budget it. We can do this, and we MUST do it.
After all, what's the use of a longer life span, when over half of people at the age of 90 have dementia?