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Home > Research Articles > Elders' Loss of Independence Costs Thousands a Year

Reuters Health

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Elders' Loss of Independence Costs Thousands a Year

August 09, 2002 05:38 PM ET NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - When older American begin to lose their independence, the costs can reach thousands of dollars in medical expenses in just the first year, according to US federal statistics.

Among Medicare recipients in 1995, those who developed a disability that limited their ability to care for themselves had additional healthcare costs of up to $13,254 for the year, even if they didn't have to move to a nursing home. Overall, about 1.4 million older Americans on Medicare developed such a disability in 1995, adding up to more than $26 billion in medical costs, according to findings published in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health. These costs include basic medical and formal long-term care, and are a combination of expenses paid by Medicare and by the elderly out-of-pocket.

Dr. Jack M. Guralnik of the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland, and his colleagues used data from a survey of Medicare recipients ages 65 and older to reach their conclusions. They focused on participants who during the year became more dependent because they needed help dressing, bathing and otherwise taking care of themselves.

The individuals were asked about all their medical and home health care use, and how much they spent for services not covered by Medicare.

The researchers estimate that, on average, Medicare recipients who started and ended the year without a disability spent $4,771 on medical care.

In contrast, individuals who started the year independent but then needed help with daily activities had medical costs of $18,025 if they remained at home and $36,596 if they ended up at a nursing home.

The estimates do not include loss of wages by unpaid caregivers, such as family members.

"These findings show the substantial financial effect that accompanies the transition to a more dependent state in the US older population," Guralnik's team writes.

"Clearly," they add, "the prevention or even delay of the loss of independence has important implications for the financing of Medicare and Medicaid and for the quality of life of the older individual."

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health 2002;92:1244-1245.