Demand for LTC set to explode

By David Santerre | October 4, 2010 | Last updated on October 4, 2010
3 min read

The coming decades will be marked by an explosion in the number of Alzheimer’s diagnoses, reinforcing the need for clients to invest in long-term care insurance products, according to re-insurer Munich Re, which hosted its second congress on long-term care insurance in Montreal last week.

Citing a recent survey commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association, Munich Re said that four in five Canadians believe pressures exerted by the aging population will negatively impact the quality of healthcare services for seniors.

Seventy two percent of respondents indicated they did not believe they have sufficient resources to maintain good health in the event of such a reduction in state-run healthcare, and consequently, 40% said they were ready to buy private insurance to compensate.

And Alzheimer’s is just the tip of the iceberg: several aging-related disorders can push your clients into long-term care (LTC). Virtually any condition that causes them to lose the ability to perform daily activities deemed necessary for life—bathing, dressing, eating, moving, continence and using the bathroom alone—can trigger a LTC benefit.

But the most dreaded condition opening the door to these benefits is cognitive impairment—dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Munich Re, long-term care insurance products are often overlooked not only by the public, but by financial planners as well. To drive home the importance of LTC coverage, advisors need to understand the realities of Alzheimer’s; not only how it affects the patient, but their caregivers as well.

“What is meant by dementia is cognitive impairment, aphasia or difficulty speaking, difficulty with normal movement, agnosia (inability to recognize and identify objects or persons), problems of effective functions or things we do every day,” said Dr. Tim Meagher, medical director of Munich and associate executive director for medical affairs at McGill University Health Centre.

It is a disease of the industrialized world that did not exist in the past, and for which all sorts of outlandish theories have been used to explain the rise in prevalence. Theories run the gamut from metal-toxicity to greed, laziness, and even the preparation of meat, said Meagher.

But he said a single reason explains the explosion of Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s pretty simple. With our public health system and our standard of living, we live longer than before. It is not unusual to get to 80 or 90 years. We have more and more centenarians. Alzheimer’s disease occurs with age, usually around age 80. So the only explanation is demographics,” he said.

But the disease may still occur earlier.

Currently, 1% of Canadians aged between ages 60 and 65 suffer dementia. Beyond age 65, the rate rises to one in 11.

“People most at risk of dementia are those over 65. But it can even begin at age 45. People who fall ill between 50 and 75 years of age face especially long terms in nursing homes, ” Meagher said.

Rates of dementia rise dramatically if there is a family history; almost one in three people with a close relative with dementia will also be diagnosed. The risks are compounded if the family member was diagnosed at a young age. Diabetes is also considered a risk factor, along with high cholesterol and smoking.

It would seem that a high level of education, in contrast, protects against the effects of dementia.

“We can postpone the day when we will develop the problems of dementia,” he confirmed. “We have to exercise our brain to do this. But nobody is immune.”

Not only are the patients affected, but dementia also turns the lives of relatives upside down.

“It’s quite a burden. In 2008, 231 million hours of care were spent in Canada by the families of people suffering from Alzheimer’s. We anticipate that this will be 750 million hours in 2038. ”

Caregivers are primarily spouses, which is not ideal because they, too, are usually coping with age-related issues. Typically the second most common caregivers are the daughters of the patient, who must often juggle the demands of caregiving with the demands of a career, children and otherwise busy lives.

Sons typically help deal with the financial aspects of personal care, Meagher says.


David Santerre