The Cost of Dementia Care

Dementia is among the costliest healthcare conditions in the United States. People living with dementia typically pay three times more in healthcare costs than those without dementia. And research suggests Lewy body dementia (LBD) is the most expensive of all.

A 2015 study out of the University of San Francisco was the first to break down healthcare costs by dementia subtypes. It examined California Medicare fee-for-service data to identify direct costs and services utilized by people living with dementia.

Of the over three million beneficiaries identified, eight percent had a dementia diagnosis. Most of these people (60 percent) had an unspecified form of dementia. The next largest group was Alzheimer’s disease at 23 percent; four percent of beneficiaries had Lewy body dementia.

Here is a look at some of the study findings:

Cost of dementia care

Medicare beneficiaries with dementia living in California spent an approximate total of $4.2 billion on healthcare in 2015, or about $17,000 per person. This was nearly three times more than the average Medicare cost for people without dementia, which was about $6,000. The average cost of Medicare claims for a person living with the lowest-cost dementia subtype was Alzheimer’s disease, costing an average of $14,000 per year.

Compared to beneficiaries without dementia, people living with dementia:

  • Had a higher rate of doctor visits
  • Were hospitalized more frequently and had longer lengths of stay
  • Had triple the number of emergency room visits
  • Required seven times more frequent ambulance services
  • Had more hospice service requests, home health agency visits, and skilled nursing facility admissions
  • Stayed in nursing homes 10 times longer

Why does Lewy body dementia cost more?

Some symptoms and medical conditions can increase care needs in people with LBD compared to other types of dementia, driving up healthcare costs even further. These include:

  • Injury-causing falls
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Dehydration
  • Urinary incontinence or infection
  • Orthostasis and other blood pressure regulation issues
  • Insomnia and other sleep disorders

Ways to control costs in Lewy body dementia care

Clearly, dementia types, symptoms, and associated conditions are important predictors of health. If dementia can be identified early with appropriate treatment and support made available, it can help to manage healthcare costs. Here are a few tips to be proactive, support quality of life and reduce unnecessary costs:

  • Learn how to prevent falls and improve safety.
    • Ask your doctor for a referral to Physical and Occupational therapists to discuss personalized strategies and equipment to improve safety and mobility in the home and community.
  • Understand early signs of medical conditions that may quickly worsen symptoms.
    • The symptoms of urinary tract infections may not be obvious in Lewy body dementia but can appear as rapid changes in the ability to move, communicate, think, or act. Contact your doctor to see if a screening for a urinary tract infection is necessary.
  • Attend to sudden changes in health status, such as an increase in hallucinations or delusions, increased confusion, and more issues with sleep.

If you or a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of LBD or other forms of dementia, aim to become more informed so you can pursue the proper treatment. The Lewy Body Dementia Association is dedicated to raising awareness of LBD. Feel free to explore the many resources on our website as you strive to educate yourself about this condition. Then, sign up for our email newsletter, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter, or contact us directly to ask any questions you have.