There are many ways that your family can be forced to endure extreme financial hardship. You can lose your job. Your home can be struck by a fire or flood. You can get divorced. But there’s no bigger economic disaster than a serious, long-term illness, and there’s no more economically devastating long-term illness than a brain disease or disorder.

The Broad Costs of Brain Diseases

The worldwide costs of brain diseases and mental disorders are staggering, and they’re so huge that they have a significant impact on the world economy. The World Economic Forum estimated that, in 2010, the costs associated with treating brain disorders came to $2.5 trillion globally.

When you look at the numbers more broadly, though, they get even bigger. The same WEF report projected that mental disorders will cost the world economy $16 trillion in lost economic growth between 2011 and 2030. A recent study in California found that a single disorder–postpartum depression–cost the state’s economy $14.2 billion in 2017, or an average of $32,000 for each afflicted mother.

The Costs Hit Home

The costs of treating and living with brain disorders reach us all, but, of course, the costs are felt most immediately by the person who suffers from the disorder. The cost of treatment is high, but as the WEF study found, the indirect costs of living with the disorders are even higher.

  • Medical Care Costs. Consulting firm Willis Towers Watson estimates that people suffering from brain disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and substance abuse make six times as many trips to the emergency room as the average person, and they submit two to four times as many medical claims to their insurance companies. Average health care claims for sufferers of depression total almost $15,000 per year for sufferers of depression, as compared to just under $6,000 for the population overall.
  • Mental Health Care. The care required for brain disorders, unlike that for many other disorders such as heart disease, doesn’t stop when you leave the hospital. Ongoing mental health care, therapy, and treatments add to the ongoing costs, and these treatments are not always covered by insurance.
  • Medications. Many brain disorders are treatable with medications, but those medications are extremely expensive. Even with insurance, medications can cost hundreds of dollars per month or more.
  • Loss of Employment. The worst brain diseases are debilitating, and sufferers are likely to miss work often. In a worst-case scenario, the effects of the disease can lead to a lost job and long-term unemployability.
  • Other Indirect Costs. Perhaps the most tragic way that some brain disorders exact a financial toll on sufferers is through the indirect effect of the disorder’s symptoms. In its early stages, a disease like Alzheimer’s can cause impaired judgment, for example, which often leads to poor–and costly–financial decisions.

The Costs Spread

Unfortunately, the costs of brain diseases aren’t confined to the sufferer alone, and inevitably the whole family feels the economic pain. Loved ones and caregivers pay the price of the disease just as surely as the person directly affected by it.

  • Lost Income. Caring for someone with a brain disorder is the most time-consuming and exhausting responsibility a family member will ever face. Without fail, the cost of care-giving is lost work, lost wages, and sometimes even a lost job.
  • Medical and Mental-Health Treatment. People who care for loved ones with brain diseases are at increased risk of developing depression, anxiety, and other mental and physical disorders themselves. Then the caregiver begins incurring treatment cost for him or herself, and the disastrous cycle keeps repeating.
  • Long-Term Financial Impacts. The impact of these diseases can affect a family for generations through long-term lost income, lost savings, and lost homes. It’s not uncommon for the grandchildren of the sufferer to be forced to deal with the financial aftermath long after the sufferer is gone.

Weathering the Storm

While dealing with a brain disease will never be easy, there are ways to limit its economic effects on your family:

  • Know your insurance. Understand your health insurance policy’s benefits and limitations, and be sure that you are taking advantage of all the benefits to which you’re entitled. Also, look for sources of supplemental aid such as veteran’s benefits, Medicaid, or other public programs.
  • Know your legal rights. Understand your rights when it comes to your employment and financial situations, so that you are not unfairly penalized in your job, by your insurance company, or by creditors.
  • Get professional help. Seek advice from legal and financial professionals so that you can make the best possible decisions about your financial future.
  • Get your affairs in order. Make sure that you have a legal plan in place in case your disorder becomes debilitating. Think about a will, a living will, financial trusts, and powers of attorney.
  • Discuss your financial plans and goals with your family. Dealing with the costs of your disease is easier when you and your loved ones are on the same page. Make sure that all of you know the plan for getting through this as painlessly as possible.

The video below offers advice for financial planning for sufferers of brain diseases, particularly dementia:

Diagnosis of a brain disease is bad news, but with the help of education, planning, and sound professional advice, it doesn’t have to be a financial catastrophe.

*Content published by the United Brain Association (UBA), such as text, graphics, reports, images, and other materials created by UBA and other materials contained on unitedbrainassociation.org are for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the unitedbrainassociation.org.

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