A USA Today headline says that Dementia care could cost $730,000! That’s a scary number that should make you want to plan for your aging needs. However, is it really a valid estimate? The newspaper got that number by using Genworth Financial’s figure of $91,250 for full-time (24 hour) care for eight years. Many Massachusetts nursing homes charge about $12,000 per month so only five years of care around here can cost that headline number.

Five to eight years of full-time care is a possibility, but it’s really a worst-case scenario. Most people with dementia live at home for many years with help from family and paid caregivers. Only when they are really bad, which is often close to the end of their lives, do they go to a full-time nursing home. A better estimate is that most individuals with dementia will spend between $100,000 and $200,000 on their care with only a few spending anywhere near that $730,000 number. Still, even $200,000 is a lot of money, so you need to plan for your care needs.

The newspaper article talks about people who have advanced dementia but still have relatively healthy bodies, who may live a long time while needing full-time care. That does happen, but more often than not, dementia symptoms coincide with bodily failures. The mind controls not only the voluntary functions, but also the autonomous systems such as heartbeat and breathing. In the end, all dementias are fatal as the brain no longer works to keep the body alive.

Some of the worst cases, in terms of living a long time with severe mental impairment, are the early onset dementias. They may come to a person with a fairly strong body and perhaps a strong will to live. Such a person could live for years while needing expensive care. On the other hand, many older people who get dementia already have other health issues that will most likely shorten the time under care. Not that this is comforting, but it does lower the cost estimates of care.

The key issue is that, if you have money, you have to pay for your care. If you have no money then the Medicaid program will pay for your nursing home care, but you probably can’t stay home with just Medicaid benefits. A better choice is to have the funds allocated to pay for your care. You can do this by saving a whole lot more than you thought you might need for retirement, or you can consider purchasing Long Term Care Insurance. That way you can leverage your premium dollars into a larger chunk of money from the insurance company if you do need care.

What it may cost to care for you or your loved one is pretty hard to estimate. Many people need no long-term-care at all, while others could hit that three-quarters of a million dollar mark. Whatever the risk, it makes sense to see your local Elder Law Attorney and arrange the right plan for you.