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6 Ways To Help a Family Member With Alzheimer's

A 2024 report estimated that 6.9 million U.S. adults over 65 are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. When someone starts to experience cognitive problems such as memory loss and struggling to make decisions, it affects not just them but their family and friends as well. 

If your family member has been diagnosed, you want to do everything you can to maintain their health and quality of life. While there’s currently no way to stop the disease, your support can make a real difference in the years ahead. 

1. Thoroughly Check the Home for Dangers 

Household accidents such as tripping and falling are a serious risk for older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 38,000 people over 65 died from falls in 2021. For people with dementia, who sometimes forget what they were doing and have a hard time making decisions, it’s especially important to limit hazards around the home. 

The National Institutes of Health recommended that caregivers take steps like: 

  • Check that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working and replace the batteries regularly. 
  • Make sure all rooms are well lit and that light switches are easy to reach. 
  • Lock up potentially dangerous items such as drugs, alcohol, weapons, and power tools. 
  • Store plastic bags — and anything else that presents a suffocation risk — out of reach. 
  • Put lines of tape around any heating devices that could burn someone. 
  • Install a ramp outside. 
  • Disconnect the garbage disposal and insert a drain trap in the kitchen sink. 
  • Add a grab bar to the bath or shower. 

2. Maintain a Routine

Structuring the day makes life more manageable and less stressful for someone with Alzheimer’s. It’s important to make sure your loved one washes up, brushes their teeth, gets dressed, and eats, but there are also many opportunities to create fulfilling experiences for both of you. 

Try to plan things to do that fit your family member’s interests and will engage their attention. Space activities out based on their habits and during what times of the day they function best. People with dementia often need a lot of rest, so you should incorporate plenty of breaks into your plans. 

Some popular activities for seniors with Alzheimer’s include: 

  • Going for a walk 
  • Watching a favorite TV show or movie 
  • Reading 
  • Crossword puzzles 
  • Household chores 
  • Gardening 
  • Listening to or playing music 

After establishing a routine, stay flexible. Spontaneous events, like a friend dropping by for a visit, can be the best part of the day. 

3. Explore Options for Respite Care 

Caregivers have other responsibilities they need to attend to, and sometimes they just need to get a little rest. That’s where respite care comes in.  

Respite care is short-term help for the caregiver, which can come from a family member or friend or from a professional. Look into what options are available in your area, such as an adult daycare center. These facilities generally offer social activities and meals as well as some health services. 

There may be programs through your state, or if your loved one qualifies, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that can help as well.  

Try using the respite provider locator provided by ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center to find the assistance that’s right for you. 

4. Plan for the Future 

Soon after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it’s hard to think about the struggles and loss that lie ahead. However, through careful planning, you can help your loved one make the most of their time, get the care they need, and protect their financial interests. Talk to them about preparing important documents like: 

  • A living will to outline what medical treatments should be administered in situations where a patient is dying or unconscious. 
  • A durable power of attorney for healthcare, which appoints someone to make medical decisions on behalf of a patient when they no longer can. 
  • A durable power of attorney for finances, which names a person to handle financial decisions. 
  • An estate plan that outlines instructions for what should be done with any property or money and how it will be distributed after the person’s death.

5. Understand What Medicare Does and Doesn’t Cover

One of the greatest challenges many caregivers face is helping their loved one manage healthcare costs. Most U.S. adults over the age of 65 are on Original Medicare, which is administered by the federal government, or have a Medicare Advantage plan from a private insurance carrier.  

People with dementia may also qualify for their state’s Medicaid program, which provides coverage for people with low incomes and limited resources. The specifics for eligibility and benefits can be different for every state, so check what help could be available to your family member. 

Families of people with Alzheimer’s should understand what types of care are and are not covered by their insurance. Original Medicare consists of two parts. Under Part B, which covers outpatient medical services, patients can receive: 

  • A fully covered annual wellness visit with a healthcare provider, which may reveal signs of cognitive impairment. 
  • A cognitive assessment, in which a doctor checks for issues with forming new memories, learning, focusing, and making decisions. 
  • A care plan for managing symptoms. 
  • Certain drugs that are administered in a medical setting. 

Medicare Part A covers inpatient care at a hospital, skilled nursing facility, or other healthcare facility if it’s considered medically necessary. That coverage helps with the costs of up to 90 days in a hospital per year, plus up to 60 reserve days that can be used over a lifetime. However, people in the later stages of Alzheimer’s need help with everyday tasks that aren’t classified as medical care and thus aren’t covered by Part A. 

Medicare Advantage plans must match Original Medicare’s coverage, but a plan may require your family member to visit doctors and pharmacies that are in a provider network to get the most out of their benefits. All Medicare Advantage plans set an annual limit on out-of-pocket spending, which can be valuable when you’re addressing a complex disease like Alzheimer’s; as of 2024, that limit can be no more than $8,850. 

A study from the University of Michigan found that patients with Alzheimer’s or related dementia who had Medicare Advantage plans were less likely to be frequently hospitalized than those on Original Medicare. The researchers suggested the difference might be because plans from private insurers create a greater incentive for healthcare providers to offer preventive care, avoiding the need for hospitalization, and they include additional benefits that make it easier to access care. 

For example, some insurance carriers offer Medicare Advantage plans called special needs plans (SNPs) that provide coordinated care and additional benefits. Those who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid may be able to join a dual eligible SNP (D-SNP) that helps with expenses such as groceries and over-the-counter items. 

However, for long-term services at home or an indefinite stay in memory care, you may need to explore sources of funds outside of Medicare. That could mean exhausting the personal assets your loved one owns and using any Social Security income, pension payments, retirement accounts, and veteran’s benefits until they qualify for Medicaid. Most state Medicaid programs will cover some or all the costs of long-term care or stays at participating nursing homes. 

Depending on where your family member lives, they may also have access to the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), which is for people who are: 

  • Are at least 55 
  • Certified by their state as a requiring a nursing home level of care 
  • Able to live safely in their community if they have the necessary care 

In the service areas where it’s available, PACE provides prescription drug coverage and a wide range of Medicare and Medicaid-covered services. Based on what a PACE care team decides is necessary, that could include medical and dental care, meals, physical therapy, counseling, and transportation to the local PACE center. 

6. Learn About Coverage for Drugs Used To Treat Alzheimer’s

There’s no way to cure Alzheimer’s, but doctors may prescribe a variety of medications to try to manage the disease and its symptoms. 

For example, patients often use a type of drug called a cholinesterase inhibitor to help with thinking and memory. Examples of this kind of medication include donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine, all of which can be taken by mouth. Donepezil is also available as a patch, marketed under the name Adlarity, that can be applied once a week. 

For these drugs (and most prescription medications), people on Medicare need a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan from a private insurance carrier. Medicare Advantage plans usually include Part D prescription drug coverage.  

Coverage details depend on the plan, but all Part D plans are now required to cap out-of-pocket spending on drugs. In 2025, no one will pay more than $2,000 for covered drugs (starting in 2026, the cap will be adjusted annually). 

Medicare coverage works differently for the drug marketed as Leqembi, or under the generic name lecanemab, which has shown some evidence of slowing progression when used early in the disease (though it also carries a risk of serious side effects). It’s administered intravenously every two weeks and works by reducing the amyloid plaques, the protein clumps that form on the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s.

Since Legembi is infused in a medical setting, it’s covered under Medicare Part B — or by a Medicare Advantage plan. Note that with this coverage, patients are still responsible for 20% of the cost of this medication after hitting their annual deductible. That means it may be difficult for many to afford even with help from Part B. 

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is the start of a long and difficult journey. If you’re caring for someone living with dementia, it’s vital to explore all the resources that are available to you and reach out for help when you need it. 

About GoHealth 

GoHealth is a leading health insurance marketplace and Medicare-focused digital health company. Enrolling in a health insurance plan can be confusing for customers, and the seemingly small differences between plans can lead to significant out-of-pocket costs or lack of access to critical medicines and even providers. GoHealth combines cutting-edge technology, data science, and deep industry expertise to build trusted relationships with consumers and match them with the healthcare policy and carrier that is right for them. Since its inception, GoHealth has enrolled millions of people in Medicare plans and individual and family plans. For more information, visit