Dementia Sufferers Hit Exhausting By ‘Alzheimer’s Tsunami’ And Medicaid Cuts


A number of occasions every week, Lou Stepanek drives to the Hiawatha Care Heart in Iowa to spend time with somebody who hasn’t appeared to acknowledge him for greater than a decade: his spouse.

“We knew it was a deadly illness,” Lou, 88, a stoic retired police captain, mentioned of his spouse’s Alzheimer’s prognosis. “However what does that imply?”

The Cedar Rapids man has practically depleted the couple’s life financial savings as Marie struggles with Alzheimer’s, a progressive kind of dementia that impacts reminiscence, considering and conduct.

The getting older inhabitants is fueling what some well being consultants name an “Alzheimer’s tsunami” for which Iowa, and the remainder of the nation, is ill-prepared. Until a treatment is discovered, an estimated 7.1 million Individuals age 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s by 2025, virtually a 35 % improve, in line with the Alzheimer’s Affiliation. Iowa’s 65-plus inhabitants is above the nationwide common.

However as a substitute of getting ready for the onslaught, Iowa and different states have begun tightening Medicaid, the one authorities program that pays for nursing residence care, in ways in which improve the burden on these with Alzheimer’s and their family members. Many states are more likely to additional slash Medicaid funding if Congress passes Obamacare repeal laws.

Marie has spent practically 14 years on the Hiawatha Care Heart, after being identified with Alzheimer’s 25 years in the past. The couple’s 67th anniversary was in January.

Till two years in the past, Lou paid for her care from financial savings. Because the couple’s property dwindled, she grew to become eligible for Medicaid, which now covers the nursing residence expense.

Lou described Marie, 91, as a superb girl who took care of the home and their 5 youngsters, together with a son born with Down syndrome who lived to age 47 along with her assist.

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After his spouse was identified, Lou tried to deal with her at residence, however her situation deteriorated. For the previous 10 years, she has been practically bedridden.

“I’m undecided if she will hear or see,” he mentioned.

Marie’s eyes shine and a smile lights up her face in a household photograph from a long time in the past. Now, she’s hunched right into a wheelchair, and her husband mentioned it’s onerous to know what she is considering. Nursing aides use a elevate to maneuver her from her mattress into the chair, the place she may be rolled into the lunchroom “and that’s her life,” he mentioned.

They sit outdoors in good climate till mealtime, then come inside to her common desk.

Marie, at 5-foot-1, has misplaced top and weight lately and seems tiny subsequent to her 6-foot-5 husband. He drapes his arm over her sweater-covered shoulders, and his blue eyes look intently as he gently lifts her head to spoon pureed inexperienced beans, mashed potatoes and meatloaf into her mouth.

Even that activity, tenderly executed, has turn out to be difficult these days, with Marie having issue holding up her head to eat. And, as together with his unanswered query about what an Alzheimer’s prognosis really means, Lou wonders what the subsequent step can be along with her meals. He trusts in a better energy to reply.

“It’s all in God’s palms,” he mentioned.

For now, Marie is bodily wholesome, and Lou mentioned he’s proud of the workers on the care heart.

“That’s nice, as a result of I can go residence and really feel like she’s being taken care of correctly,” he mentioned, including that it could be inconceivable for him to supply the identical degree of care at residence.

If Medicaid stopped paying, he mentioned, “I don’t know what I’d do.”

Medicaid, usually seen as the federal government medical health insurance program for folks with low incomes and people with disabilities, spends about one-quarter of its $four.eight billion in annual funding in Iowa for nursing residence care. This system pays for half the nursing residence residents within the state, in line with the Kaiser Household Basis.

I don’t suppose it’s a stretch of the creativeness that [families] can be requested to take a liked one again residence [if Congress cuts Medicaid].
Brandon Geib, former Iowa public coverage director for the Alzheimer’s Affiliation

The Alzheimer’s Affiliation calls the illness a triple menace, with rising prevalence, few therapy choices and large prices. Medicaid spending in 2015 for Iowans identified with Alzheimer’s totaled $576 million, the group reported, and is predicted to extend virtually 34 % by 2025. The Iowa Division of Human Providers mentioned $64.three million was spent in fiscal 2017, simply on long-term care amenities for folks identified with Alzheimer’s.

Iowa’s Medicaid numbers mirror the remainder of the nation, mentioned Brandon Geib, who till lately was public coverage director for the Alzheimer’s Affiliation for the state.

“One in 4 seniors with Alzheimer’s are on Medicaid, so the potential affect [from proposed cuts] could possibly be fairly drastic,” Geib mentioned, emphasizing that Medicaid, which covers 70 million Individuals, is the one authorities program that covers long-term nursing residence stays. Medicare, this system for older Individuals, doesn’t.

Medicaid additionally covers some companies that permit Alzheimer’s sufferers to remain of their properties, which prices considerably lower than long-term care amenities.

“I don’t suppose it’s a stretch of the creativeness that [families] can be requested to take a liked one again residence” if Congress cuts Medicaid, Geib mentioned. “Sometimes, nursing amenities are thought of the final cease. Generally it’s the final selection these people are left with, so it’s a scary thought.”

How Medicaid Cuts Would Hit Alzheimer’s Sufferers

Republican Obamacare repeal proposals would finish federal funding for Medicaid enlargement after which change federal funding for this system as an entire, by making use of a sort of cap to the cash states obtain. The present system funds states based mostly on precise expenditures, so states get extra money as each the variety of enrollees and their medical bills improve.

GOP plans would all however definitely drive states to get rid of advantages, curtail enrollment or reduce supplier charges, mentioned Tim Charles, president and CEO of Mercy Medical Heart in Cedar Rapids, which opened a caregivers heart in December 2015 to assist deal with the exploding variety of folks being identified with Alzheimer’s. Any of these adjustments would have a very devastating impact on Iowa’s rural well being care system, the place Medicaid populations are larger, he added.

Already, Iowa’s transfer final 12 months to a Medicaid system managed by three for-profit corporations is affecting folks identified with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

Kathy Horan, vp of AbbeHealth Growing old Providers, which operates grownup day well being facilities in Marion, Cedar Rapids and Iowa Metropolis, mentioned managed care organizations, or MCOs, that coordinate Medicaid recipients’ care have began to lower the variety of days coated at these facilities.

Beforehand, sufferers may attend 5 occasions per week, collaborating in actions for these identified with Alzheimer’s and permitting their caregivers respite time. Now, the MCO would possibly authorize simply two days per week.

“So the stress degree on the caregiver goes up,” Horan mentioned. Which will find yourself sending sufferers right into a nursing residence sooner, at a a lot larger expense than care at residence, she mentioned.

The MCOs are also searching for proof that day-program sufferers are making progress.

“Are they getting higher? Is it a medically needed service?” are among the many issues they ask, she mentioned. “However it’s frequent sense that an Alzheimer’s affected person isn’t going to get higher.”


Squeezing Caregivers: ‘The Shadow Well being System’

Caregivers usually are spouses or grownup youngsters of individuals identified with Alzheimer’s. Known as the “sandwich technology,” adults of their 20s, 30s and 40s are sometimes caring for his or her dad or mum, together with their very own youngsters, usually whereas attempting to carry down a job.

Kaitlin Scott, 28, of Cedar Rapids, mentioned she by no means anticipated to be confronted with accountability for her mom’s well being at such a younger age.

Cindy Khan, 61, was identified with early onset Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia ― attributable to progressive nerve cell loss within the mind’s frontal lobes ― at age 59.

Scott, Khan’s solely youngster, grew to become the decision-maker for her mom, incessantly touring about two hours every approach to Des Moines, the place Khan lived, and again to Cedar Rapids, the place Scott works as a particular training instructor.

She employed folks to test on her mom and assist with errands, “but it surely bought to the purpose when it was now not secure for her to dwell in her residence,” Scott mentioned.

Her mom couldn’t drive, couldn’t safely cook dinner in her personal kitchen, and had issue with each day duties, corresponding to remembering what to do with a toothbrush. “I needed to make the toughest choice: to maneuver her out of her residence and put her in a reminiscence care facility,” Scott mentioned.

Some folks have requested why her mom didn’t simply transfer in along with her, however Scott mentioned she needed to take into account her husband, as they’d been married only a few years when her mom was identified. Plus, due to her work schedule, Scott was typically unavailable.

It was not what I needed to do. However I grew to become a caretaker, and that’s No. 1 ― ensuring each second we dwell in has that means for him.
Anne Scherer, who takes care of her husband, Alan, at their West Des Moines residence

The strains and obligations related to caregiving drive an estimated 15 % of caregivers to depart their paid jobs, making a ripple impact on the economic system, in line with Charles, of Mercy Medical Heart. Retirement financial savings for that youthful technology additionally endure.

Nationwide, an estimated 15.9 million Individuals present 18.2 billion hours of unpaid help to these with Alzheimer’s and different types of dementia, in line with the Alzheimer’s Affiliation. Iowa alone has an estimated 135,000.

“It’s the shadow well being system,” Charles mentioned.

The duty can take an infinite toll.

Stanford College researchers have discovered that Alzheimer’s caregivers have a 63 % larger mortality charge than non-caregivers, with 40 % dying from stress-related issues earlier than the affected person dies.

These numbers aren’t misplaced on Kathy Good, whose husband, David Good, a choose in japanese Iowa, was identified with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 56. The 2 typically rode their tandem bike and David, an outdoorsman, ran two half-marathons after his prognosis.

Kathy took care of her husband at their Cedar Rapids residence for eight years earlier than he moved right into a care heart. He died in 2015.

Even along with her social work background, she typically felt overwhelmed. The stress, she mentioned, seemingly contributed to well being circumstances she developed, together with rheumatoid arthritis.

Kathy now makes use of what she realized as a caregiver to direct the Household Caregivers Heart of Mercy, which opened in Cedar Rapids practically two years in the past as a useful resource for household caregivers.

Monetary issues are among the many many burdens the households carry, she mentioned, and so they have escalated, of late, with worries about the way forward for well being care funding.


Anne Scherer, a retired accountant who tends to be a planner, has been operating the numbers to attempt to decide what the longer term holds for her and her husband, Alan, 76, who was identified with Alzheimer’s at age 68. The 2 dwell in West Des Moines, the place Anne takes care of her husband at residence.

Alan Scherer, former chief monetary officer on the Duluth Information Tribune in Minnesota, had a protracted profession in finance, however his forgetfulness ― misplacing keys or his pockets and repeating tales ― grew to become progressively extra troubling, his spouse mentioned.

When he left a carton of milk in a cupboard, moderately than the fridge, she knew one thing was mistaken.

After Alan was identified with Alzheimer’s in 2010, Anne tried to maintain up with the tax agency she owned, even bringing him to work along with her. She gave it up in 2015.

“It was not what I needed to do,” she mentioned of retirement. “However I grew to become a caretaker, and that’s No. 1 ― ensuring each second we dwell in has that means for him.”


The 2 nonetheless go bowling, to films and to baseball video games ― Alan coached their three sons as youths. They sing collectively and attend packages, such because the “Reminiscence Cafe” by the Alzheimer’s Affiliation and WesleyLife, a nonprofit that provides companies for older adults. Individuals with dementia and their caregivers share experiences and laughs on the social Reminiscence Cafe occasions. 

Some folks ask why she takes her husband locations he received’t keep in mind.

“Folks say it’s not remembered, however I keep in mind,” she mentioned.


Bodily, Alan is wholesome, however he wants assist with on a regular basis chores corresponding to bathing and getting dressed. “Nothing is unbiased,” she mentioned.

Throughout an interview, he couldn’t provide you with the phrase for “ring,” when Anne pointed to the jewellery on her hand. He retains a humorousness, although, which has helped their marriage.

When requested to reveal his singing expertise, he quipped, “I’m good.”


Anne mentioned she worries about what’s going to occur when she will now not take care of her husband at residence. Funding has been reduce for one of many packages the place Alan hung out twice a month with others identified with Alzheimer’s, giving Anne a couple of hours off from the 24/7 care.

They can’t afford private-pay nursing amenities, which may value greater than $100,000 yearly. When Alan lastly requires nursing residence care, they’d spend by their financial savings after which depend on Medicaid, she mentioned.

“For those who take a look at the end-stage, you couldn’t deal with it at residence,” she mentioned of the lifting and different each day duties. “I simply don’t know what we’ll do. I had it so deliberate out.”

Cindy Hadish is an Iowa-based freelance journalist who writes for IowaWatch and different media retailers. Learn extra from IowaWatch right here.

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