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Don’t Forget to Include Memory Loss When Planning for Retirement

When planning for retirement, an important factor that is often overlooked is the potential for declining cognitive skills associated with aging. Cognitive impairment (CI), often attributable to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, can have profound implications for your overall health and well-being, particularly during retirement. The cost of care can absorb income and significantly deplete retirement savings. It can also deprive you of the ability to effectively manage your financial affairs.

Cognitive impairment — a growing concern

The possibility of suffering from some form of cognitive impairment later in life is real. Dementia affects approximately 2.4 to 5.5 million Americans. Its prevalence increases with age: 5% in persons ages 71 to 79, 24% in those ages 80 to 89, and 37% in those 90 and older.1 One in eight adults age 60 and older (12.7%) experiences confusion or memory loss that is happening more often or getting worse. Unfortunately, among these individuals, only 19.3% discuss these changes with a health-care provider. Additionally, 34.5% of those affected by CI live alone.2

Financial impact of the cost of care

Dementia, including Alzheimer’s, is the most costly disease in the United States and is set to increase like no other. In 2016, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia will cost the United States an estimated $236 billion. By 2050, this number is expected to grow to more than $1.2 trillion. Among all nursing home residents, more than 64% have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Alzheimer’s is the sixth highest cause of death in the United States.3

Unfortunately, those suffering from advanced stages of cognitive impairment often require long-term care. The cost of care can quickly deplete your retirement savings and affect the quality of life for you and your family, leaving little or no income or savings. Average costs of long-term care include the following:4

  • $6,235 per month, or $74,820 per year, for a semi-private room in a nursing home
  • $6,965 per month, or $83,580 per year, for a private room in a nursing home
  • $3,293 per month for a one-bedroom unit in an assisted living facility
  • $21 per hour for a home health aide
  • $19 per hour for homemaker services
  • $67 per day, or roughly $2,010 per month, for services in an adult day health-care center

The cost of long-term care depends on the type and duration of care you need, the health-care provider you use, and where you live. While one-third of 65-year-olds may never need long-term care, 20% will need it for more than five years.5

Loss of ability to manage finances

Your financial plan should consider not only the potential cost of care if you or your spouse suffer from cognitive impairment, but also determine who will make financial decisions about your care.

Even if you suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI), you may find it more difficult to manage investments or a household budget. If you are the primary money manager and experience declining cognitive skills, your spouse could be left financially vulnerable.

Make it part of your plan

A comprehensive financial and legal plan is important. It is helpful to prepare as early as possible. Some families use the services of an elder law attorney.

There may come a time when you can no longer make decisions for yourself, including financial and health-care decisions. This can create a hardship for a caregiver trying to conduct financial transactions and make medical decisions. Several types of legal documents can be written before they are needed to help you and family members through this difficult time. These documents include, but are not limited to, an advance medical directive, a medical power of attorney or health-care proxy, and a durable power of attorney, which allows a representative or agent to make financial decisions and transactions on your behalf, should you become unable to do so.

There are generally three ways to pay for long-term care expenses: use your own income and savings, share the cost of care through some form of private insurance, and/or seek the assistance of state or federal government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. The choices you make will likely depend on several factors, including your financial and family situation, your age, and your state of residence. In any case, it’s wise to consider the ramifications of cognitive impairment when planning for retirement.

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